Cancer survivor enjoys
hitting the ski slopes
By Lindsey Garner
Faith and spirituality weave themselves through all aspects of John Holland’s life — family man, business manager, community leader, outdoor enthusiast and cancer survivor.
“God gave me adversity, and while it was difficult day-to-day, over time I saw my cancer as a blessing.” Holland says. “It’s encouraged me to spend the years since my diagnosis really living — balancing family, my business and the outdoors, all with God at the center.”
Holland was diagnosed in 1997 at MD Anderson with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a slowly progressing blood and bone marrow disease.
At the start of his treatment, he decided to pursue skiing as a serious hobby while adjusting to the aggressive drug therapy. A group ski trip to British Columbia scheduled near the one-year anniversary of diagnosis gave him a goal and “something to look forward to.”
Today, the adventure is an annual event for Holland and his Powder Hound Alpine Adventure Team.
Life at great heights
After 3 1/2 years on the treatment protocol, his blood counts returned to normal, and the disease was barely detectable. He skied across North America with family and friends, pushed his limits with heli-skiing and perfected his skills in the backcountry.
In 2008, shortly before his annual ski trip, he came to MD Anderson for his routine six-month blood test. He left the country with what he thought was a persistent chest cold and expectations for normal blood test results upon return.
In the remote backcountry of British Columbia, his fatigue increased, and he struggled to ski. The deterioration accelerated and soon he was checked into a rural hospital. Tests revealed his CML was back in blast crisis.
After a drug therapy-induced remission and seven months of chemotherapy, Holland underwent a stem cell transplant performed by Stefan Octavian Ciurea, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy.
Ciurea supported his desire to get back on the slopes. With much caution and only four months after his transplant, Holland celebrated Christmas skiing with his wife, daughter, son and their friends in Rossland, British Columbia.
Recently appointed to the institution’s Board of Visitors, Holland feels that
“MD Anderson is one of the most important places in my life.”