As the 1960s drew to a close, the Vietnam War was raging, man had landed on the moon, The Beatles were breaking up, and Hans De Vrind swapped Rotterdam for Essex. During his lifetime, Hans has had testicular cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, leukaemia, and a brain haemorrhage – but has beaten them all.
Even after one serious diagnosis, many of us may be guilty of thinking ‘Why me?’, but not Hans. As well as battling his illnesses, he’s been fighting other people’s since Saint Francis Hospice opened its doors 35 years ago.
‘Some people say that I bury my head in the sand, but I don’t think I do,’ he said. ‘I’ve just always been a very positive person.’ When Hans testicular cancer, his then-girlfriend and now-wife, Theressa, visited him in hospital.’Why are you crying?’ asked Hans. ‘You’ve got cancer, and you never told me,’ she said. ‘Well, you never asked me!’ came Hans’ reply.
The day after he was diagnosed with a brain haemorrhage, he carried on working on his laptop from his hospital bed. ‘I was screaming for someone to let me out! That’s always been my attitude. I’ve always wanted to carry on,’ he recalled.
Hans was one of 13 children. When he left school, Hans qualified as a pilot and parachutist in the Dutch Army. He was deployed to Northern Ireland during the height of the troubles in the 1970s. It was felt that soldiers who weren’t English would be more welcomed on the island. At 50, Hans took a career change and qualified as a mental health professional helping people who felt suicidal. One nurse said to him: ‘I wish we could bottle your positive thinking and hand it out to patients. Nothing ever fazes you.’
Hans has lost his dad and sister to leukaemia, and his brother is now living with the same illness. Cancer researchers poured over the De Vrind family’s home, hobbies, lifestyle and diet to see if they could find a link. They concluded that four diagnoses of leukaemia in one family were purely a coincidence. Since 1984, Hans has been here, there, and everywhere in Saint Francis Hospice. He volunteers, fundraises, and is always there for those who need it the most. ‘I’m no quitter,’ he said.
If you’d like to help fill the void left by Hans, Saint Francis Hospice needs volunteers to do all different kinds of jobs. By volunteering, you’ll be doing something incredible for people who really it. To find out more, please visit their website, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 01708 758614, or visit your local Saint Francis Hospice store.
Sadly, shortly after writing this article, cancer returned to Hans‘ body. He passed away peacefully at Saint Francis Hospice in January 2020 with his loved ones around him. He was 71. Hans has left an enormous gap at the Hospice, and everyone misses him terribly. We’d like to thank Hans’ family for allowing us to share his story.