Local hero still fighting side effects of cancer

Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Almost 20 years after winning a five-year battle with cancer, Caje Holst still is fighting the side effects from experimental treatments that saved his life.

Holst, a former Juneau resident, was active in cancer research telethons that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 1980s. While attending Juneau-Douglas High School he also remained active in gymnastics and wrestling despite the loss of a leg to cancer.

Holst was 15 when doctors diagnosed his bone cancer in 1979. During the next five years he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment, eventually losing both his legs to the disease - one in 1979 and the other in 1984.

The extent of the cancer that spread quickly throughout his body prompted doctors to rely on experimental treatments that saved his life but had long-term side effects. Neutron radiation treatment used in 1982 caused a bone infection that sent him back to the hospital two years later for the second amputation.

As a result of the surgery, Holst suffered damage to his intestines, which has become increasingly problematic in the last few years.

Doctors in Anchorage referred him last November to a hospital in Omaha, Neb., that specializes in small-organ surgery. Surgery and recovery were supposed to take five to seven weeks, but complications have extended his stay an additional five months.

Holst and his wife Amie and daughters Emily and Katie have spent the past six months in Omaha.

"Besides the medical stuff, it really isn't that bad here," Holst said. "My wife and daughters have been able to meet a lot of interesting people from all over the country."

Holst said friends and family have kept in touch and said the moral support has helped the family. Holst's mother Janice Holst is asking people to write letters of support to help her son and his family though the hard times.

"He's always had a good spirit," she said. "He's never given up, and he's never felt sorry for himself."

Letters can be sent care of The Potter House, 428 South 28th St., Omaha, Neb., 68131.

"I just appreciate that people have been praying for us," Caje Holst said.

Holst was referred to the hospital to treat blockages in his intestines resulting from the radiation treatment, but said the recent surgery caused problems with his stomach and further extended his stay.

Holst said he expects to be released from the hospital any day now. Upon his release, Holst said he and his family temporarily will relocate to Holland, Mich., to live near Amie's parents.

Caje, his mother Janice and father Butch became local celebrities in the 1980s with their statewide fund-raising efforts for cancer research. Spearheaded by his mother, a telethon raised $25,000 the first year and more than $55,000 the second. In all they raised more than $330,000 for cancer research.

After graduating from JDHS in 1981, Holst attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and worked for the state Department of Education in Juneau. He moved to Anchorage in 1996 and began working for the Department of Labor.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.

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