When Richard Bloch, the “R” in the tax-preparation chain of H&R Block, learned he had terminal lung cancer on March 29, 1978, his doctor told him to get his estate in order. “He not only gave me a death warrant,” Bloch, 55, recalls, “but he signed it and chiseled it in stone. I felt helpless. I did not know where to turn.”
At the urging of a friend whose wife had died of cancer, Bloch flew the next day from his home in Kansas City, Mo. to Houston to get a second opinion at the University of Texas’ M.D. Anderson Hospital, one of the nation’s largest cancer centers. There his malignancy was confirmed. But the prognosis was less bleak. After consultations that involved at least 25 doctors, his treatment included radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunization therapy and surgery to remove part of his lung. Bloch was sent home apparently cured. “My physician had told me I would be cured so that I could work to fight cancer,” Bloch remembers.
Bloch has honored that obligation by organizing the Cancer Hot Line, a unique nonprofit service in Kansas City for newly diagnosed cancer patients. Each caller is assigned to one of 89 volunteer counselors who has had a similar cancer. Patients are encouraged to obtain a free second opinion from a specially selected panel of doctors. More than a hundred specialists meet weekly on a rotation basis. The volunteers help patients collect their medical records and accompany them to panel meetings (five doctors with varying specialties in most sessions). The panel uses the patient’s records to review the diagnosis and recommend treatment; its conclusions are sent to the patient’s physician.
Since the panel began a year ago, it has reviewed almost 200 cases. Some patients were offered new options. But the treatment of most has been judged appropriate. That kind of reassurance can be valuable, too. The panel told Robert Van Hoozer, 27, a Savannah, Mo. mechanic, that it supported his doctor’s plan to operate. “I had been told so many things I was beginning to distrust all doctors,” says Van Hoozer. “After I talked to the panel, I wasn’t jumping at shadows.”
“We are vehemently against any doctor who says a cancer patient cannot be cured,” Bloch says. “It is totally different if a doctor says, ‘I don’t know of a treatment that can cure you.’ No doctor knows the treatment of all the different kinds of cancer. What we want to tell people is to keep looking.” Still, Bloch stresses, “It’s important to go to the specialists immediately. Cancer is never as treatable as it is today—tomorrow may be too late.” In addition to Kansas City, Bloch has already helped set up similar cancer hot lines in Memphis, Little Rock and Gainesville, Fla. and is working to start such services in four other cities. He is also planning to create a major cancer treatment facility in Kansas City.
Born there in 1926, Bloch is the son of a lawyer who “never worked past 12 noon.” Unimpressed by his father’s example, Dick set up a home printing press at 10 and five years later was making $100 a week as a printer whose major client was his school.
While at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, he sold used cars and met Annette Mo-dell, daughter of a Philadelphia businessman. When Dick proposed and her father asked him how he planned to pay for her fancy dresses, Dick replied: “In Kansas City, all we wear is blue jeans and loafers.”
He was working as an investment banker while brothers Leon and Henry ran a bookkeeping firm. Then Leon quit to become a lawyer and Dick joined Henry. They gave tax advice as a sideline and formed H&R Block in 1955. (The Blochs changed the spelling of their name for fear it would be mispronounced “blotch.”) They began to open and to franchise offices nationally in 1956; there are 9,000 now.
Though still H&R’s chairman, Dick retired in 1969. He says, “I finally began to believe what my father said: ‘When you have three meals a day, you can’t have any more.’ ” The Blochs winter in Fort Lauderdale and Acapulco. At home Dick proves that even his Houston doctors were too pessimistic. They had told him he’d never play tennis again, but now he gets in three sets most days.