Cancer Survivor Turns Passion for Winemaking Into Fundraising for the Disease

Published on: 
CURE, CURE® Genitourinary Cancer 2022 Special Issue,

After a metastatic prostate cancer diagnosis, Robert Hollander decided to bring together his love of wine and his journey with cancer to create a foundation to support the research field.

Robert Hollander, 67, discovered his love of wine after working as a waiter/bartender through medical school and continued to show interest throughout residency.

In 2007, he even started his own small-volume winery, 2Red Winery. However, his passion changed to purpose in 2009 when he received a diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer.

His journey with cancer began in 2006, when he started getting his “adult medical tests.” His prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test was slightly elevated at 4.5. A month later, it was tested again and was even higher. His doctor at the time referred him for 14 panel biopsies.

The results of the biopsies showed no cancer, only an inflamed prostate.

“Which is curious because there was no reason I should have had an inflamed prostate,” Hollander said in an interview with CURE ®. He was told he was “all good.”

Anything over a 4 is often a “borderline range” of having prostate cancer and anything above that is over a 50% chance of diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society.

In 2008, after another PSA test, Hollander was at a 95. “When my PSA was 4.5, I wasn’t that concerned. When it was 95, I was scared,” he recalled.

He had another panel of 14 biopsies, which, once again, showed an inflamed prostate with no evidence of cancer. His urologist at a university told him, “Never check your PSA again. It’s always going to be high.”

A year after that, in 2009, during a rope climbing workout, he felt an odd and internal tug deep in his pelvis. After monitoring it for a week, he still felt it and decided to go to his primary care doctor, who ordered a CT scan, which found a “big bulky disease” in his pelvis. They found nodes as big as his fist and his PSA level was at 250.

This confirmed his diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer.

The Settlement

“At that point, it was pretty clear to me (that) mistakes had been made along the journey,” Hollander said. “The urologist who (told me to never check my PSA again because it’s always going to be high) — there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and he was on the wrong side of that line.”

After starting treatment for his disease, which consisted of androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), radiation and intermittent ADT, he decided to give the university’s risk management department a call to let them know what had happened.

He was going to send a lawsuit but wanted to give them a chance of settlement first. Because of bad medical advice and failure to diagnose his prostate cancer at a curable stage, the university offered him a settlement, which he took and later used to fund his newly created foundation.

A Love of Wine and a Journey With Cancer

It was in 2007 that the Florida resident discovered he could create a small-volume winery based in Napa Valley, California. It started off great; the only problem was that one barrel of wine turned into 300 bottles, so he had a lot of leftover wine.

But after receiving the settlement money he knew what to do.

“The time period was around the time of the cancer diagnosis, which was profoundly depressing,” he said. “And (when I spoke) with the university’s risk management department about a fair compensation — I was just trying to make sense of it all. I wanted to make something good of the whole thing.”

The ideas of philanthropy, winemaking and the money from his settlement all came together, and he started the Robert and Susan Hollander Foundation to support further research for prostate cancer.

“It put a positive note on the whole sorry situation,” Hollander explained.

He said it feels great when he can give a monetary gift from the wine and foundation to a young researcher who is trying to make a change in the prostate cancer field and expand options for patients.

“Everybody who goes through this journey has to find a way of dealing with a difficult situation,” Hollander said. “The winemaking is fun, and having people enjoy it is great, too. It’s a small thing, but (I’m) just trying to (make) the best out of a challenging situation.”

Dealing With the Cards

After three years on ADT, Hollander decided to stop treatment because the side effects had become intolerable, and he has been off any type of therapy for 10 years. For now, he has a new campaign starting on Indiegogo to continue supporting prostate cancer research and his foundation.

He is excited to see how the campaign does and hopes to make more barrels and provide more support to researchers in the field.

“There’s a pessimistic, realistic side of me (that) stops me from being too optimistic,” he said. “As for the future, tomorrow is promised to nobody, so it’s just one day at a time.”

For others going through a prostate cancer diagnosis, he advises them to not ask themselves why it happened to them, but instead try to make the most out of the cards they have been dealt.

As a physician himself, and spending most of his career in inpatient hospital medicine, he has realized that someone has it worse than him. During his own prostate cancer journey, he was caring for a younger man with an aggressive form of leukemia.

When Hollander asked him how he stayed motivated, the young man said, “There’s no alternative. You just have to look forward as best as you can, because there is no other realistic option.”

“So that is the advice I would offer to others going through a cancer journey,” Hollander said.

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