Richard A. Bloch cannot forget March 28, 1978, the day his doctor told him his lung cancer would kill him. Bloch, cofounder of the H&R Block tax preparation firm, didn't buy his doctor's verdict, and he had the money and the time to appeal it.
Two years and a month later, on May 1, 1980, Bloch's new doctors at the M. D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute in Houston told him his cancer was in complete remission. He was, as best the doctors could tell, cured.
Today Bloch, who vowed to dedicate his life to fighting cancer if he were spared, announced he is setting up a nonprofit center to give the same chance to less wealthy cancer victims.
"I was fortunate enough to have the time and money to go out of town for treatment," Bloch said in announcing the R. A. Bloch Cancer Management Center. "But the resources are available in every major city. The problem is they are fragmented. It doesn't take a genius to see that any city can do it."
Bloch, 55, says the obstacle faced by a cancer victim is getting to a competent physician quickly enough to receive effective treatment.
Taking time to search for specialists can be fatal because "you've got to remember that cancer cells multiply geometrically and if you wait, you could be dead."
Compounding the patient's ignorance and fear may be intense competition between hospitals and physicians, Bloch says.
"Sometimes a hospital will not send a patient elsewhere for the proper tests and equipment. They treat them there, and the patient may die. It's a problem between a few hospitals and a few selfish doctors."
Bloch hopes his brainchild, a screening and referral center for cancer patients at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Medical School, will help solve those problems.
The center, announced here on the deadline for filing income tax returns to avoid charges that Bloch was seeking to call attention to his tax service, will open May 1, the second anniversary of the day Bloch's cancer was pronounced in remission.
The center, operated under a board of directors representing every area hospital, will gather local physicians who specialize in each area of the body where cancer can occur, as well as doctors specializing in the various methods of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and surgery.
Patients will be referred to one of 10 boards of physician specialists, who will recommend tests and treatments and continue to supervise treatment. A revolving pool of 70 local physicians will staff the review panels. The center itself will have no diagnostic or treatment facilities, but it will give a cancer patient a chance to be reviewed by a whole team of doctors.
The concept is simple, Bloch says, and it can be duplicated easily in every major city. He claims it will be self-supporting, with physicians contributing their time.
Cancer patients will be referred on a first-come basis to the center, which will be based at the UMKC as a "neutral ground" acceptable to all 27 area hospitals.
The cost: a fixed fee of $500, which Bloch expects to be picked up by charitable organizations in some cases.
All treatments must be prescribed by two doctors, Bloch says, because "if we're talking about making a mistake in cancer we're talking about death."
In addition to representatives from each area hospital, the 30-member board of directors will include Bloch and his wife, Annette, and the UMKC medical director.
Bloch expects 2,000 patients to be screened the first year, half of them from outside the Kansas City area. He expects more than 85 percent to be treated in local hospitals.
"The current survival rate--that's five years after being diagnosed--is 42 percent," Bloch said. "With prompt, proper treatment, I think that can be improved."