The Gift of Time: Mark Van Houten Went From Cancer Patient to Volunteer

Mary Carson, RN, OCN

Time is often taken for granted. Getting a cancer diagnosis can change that. As Mark Van Houten can attest, time then becomes the most gracious thing any one person can give.

Mark, a retired self-described telephone man (BellSouth) from Alabama, is an Air Force veteran with an affinity for Auburn football, old movies and his wife of 48 years, Rae. And when he’s not hunting with his grandson at his family farm in Alabama, Mark spends his days in Brevard where he and his wife reside year-round.

In 2010, Mark was diagnosed with colon cancer, subsequently had 14 inches of his colon removed and began chemotherapy treatment shortly thereafter at the Brevard Cancer & Infusion Center. Once cured, Mark spent the next five years cancer-free.

According to Mark, “Over the years, between my time in the Air Force and my career with BellSouth, I’ve been in so many hospitals. And for the size of town Brevard is, Transylvania Regional Hospital and the Brevard Cancer & Infusion Center are simply phenomenal. The facilities are clean, and the people are so courteous, kind and warming. And despite my reasons for visiting, I’ve never had a down day there.”

What’s more, Mary Carson, RN, OCN, Practice Manager with the Brevard Cancer & Infusion Center, understands the value their facility brings to their community. “From the smiles of the clerical team to the laughter and singing in the infusion suite, we try our best to put a smile on patients’ faces, even during difficult circumstances,” said Carson. “For us, when a patient says that they enjoy coming to receive their treatment or don’t want to leave, that’s when we know we’re getting it right!”

Less fortunate was the news Mark received in 2015. Upon a standard bloodwork at his annual visit, Mark was diagnosed with kidney failure and immediately began dialysis. Following treatment, Mark’s kidneys were considered stable enough to begin an oral regimen of medication in lieu of the more severe dialysis treatments. At present, Mark still has stage IV kidney failure and is currently seeking a transplant.

However, despite the downturn in his overall health in 2015, Mark, understanding the value of his time, appreciates the value of the care he received during his battle with cancer and pays it forward four hours at a time, every Thursday by volunteering between Transylvania Regional Hospital and the Brevard Cancer & Infusion Center.

“If I can get anything out of this story or the time I donate, it’s my hope that more people will volunteer at their local hospital. Whether it’s a lot of time or only a little, everything is appreciated,” said Mark. “And whether it’s time, an organ or money, everyone should donate something. That’s what makes this world better, and the time we have best spent.”

Colorectal Cancer: By the Numbers

According to the American Cancer Society, excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. There are 95,520 new cases of colon cancer and 39,910 new cases of rectal cancer each year. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 21 (4.7 percent) for men and 1 in 23 (4.4 percent) for women. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the United States and the second leading cause in men. It is expected to cause about 50,260 deaths during 2017.

The death rate (the number of deaths per 100,000 people per year) from colorectal cancer has been dropping in both men and women for several decades. One reason is that colorectal polyps are now being found more often by screening and removed before they can develop into cancers or are being found earlier when the disease is easier to treat. As a result, there are now more than 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.

For more information about Brevard Cancer & Infusion Center at Transylvania Regional Hospital, call (828) 883-3987 or visit missionhealth.org/cancer.

Mary Carson, RN, OCN, is Practice Manager with the Brevard Cancer & Infusion Center at Transylvania Regional Hospital. 828-883-3987

By Calvin Mabry