California whitewater pioneer Lars Holbek ,51, is undergoing treatment for what a biopsy has determined is an incurable form of cancer.
“Were my cancer a lymphoma or a germ cell cancer, it would be likely curable with chemo and bone marrow transplant. As a carcinoma it is not curable. We can knock it back for an indeterminate period with chemo, but ultimately (allegedly) it will return. Without a second thought, my choice is to keep on with the treatments and run it out as long as possible. We’ll also be looking into other opinions, options, specialists and miracles,” Holbek posted on a health-related Yahoo! group message board November 18. He was not available to speak to C&K.
Holbek was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his liver late last month after being helicopter evacuated from the Grand Canyon in October for severe abdominal pains. He is credited with completing numerous first descents in the Sierra Nevada, and known for co-authoring The Best Whitewater in California—The Guide to 180 Runs with Chuck Stanley in 1984; now in its third edition, this guidebook is still widely known as “The Bible” to many California boaters.
Holbek’s wife, Nancy, announced the news to friends and family via the Yahoo! group, which has garnered 47 members and more than 83 responses since her first post November 2.
In that initial post, Nancy Holbek wrote that doctors in Durango, Colorado, began chemotherapy treatment November 1. In subsequent posts, she provided that the cancer was thought to be a rare, very aggressive type known as Plasmablastic Lymphoma, for which Lars underwent four chemotherapy sessions in three days. Later tests revealed no sign of cancer in his spinal fluid, bone marrow, or skeletal structure and that, with treatment, the cancer cells were dying and the tumor appeared to have slowed its rapid pace of growth.
An outpouring of support from friends and fellow paddlers via messages and photos on this message board and on boof.com, the popular California whitewater forum, has followed.
“Lars started feeling pains in his upper abdomen five weeks ago prior to our scheduled Grand Canyon river trip in October,” Nancy wrote in her first post November 2. “He had started feeling better and had some tests done that indicated all was well. So we left for the Grand Canyon. He had a painful incident 7 days into the trip and again on day 14, and was helicopter evac-ed out on day 15. He was taken to the Flagstaff hospital where he was diagnosed with probable gallstones and a mass in his liver. He was in and out of the Flagstaff hospital for 5 days with multiple scans and tests.
Lars came home from the hospital November 15 as national laboratories attempted to pinpoint the exact type of cancer in order to proceed with the correct chemotherapy drugs, Nancy posted ten days ago. He was scheduled to re-enter four to five days of chemo at Mercy Hospital November 20.
– Kate Stepan