Celebrations of life are filled with good stories, laughter and tears, and the celebration for Dr. Terry Hollenbeck was no exception.
On Aug. 31, friends and family, including Hollenbeck’s wife, Beth, their children and grandson, gathered to share their memories of Hollenbeck, who died on Aug. 2 at the age of 76.
Hollenbeck had battled multiple myeloma cancer since his diagnosis in 2013, and had been open and honest about his fight.
As a long-time contributor to the Press Banner, Hollenbeck’s beloved weekly columns were filled with information regarding all things health-related, from the effects of alcohol to recognizing Down Syndrome Awareness Month. As Hollenbeck’s cancer progressed, his columns would often reflect the treatment he was undergoing, and his transparency about his illness won the hearts of his readers.
From 1983 to 1987, Hollenbeck worked at Doctors on Duty on Ocean Street, where he became their medical director in 1985. In 1987, he joined Santa Cruz Medical Clinic and helped to establish their first satellite urgent care clinic in Scotts Valley. It was there that he practiced until his retirement in 2015 after serving some 100,000 patients.
He began writing for the paper in 2008, and by 2021, he had published over 250 articles, including one entitled “Introducing: Dr. Terry Hollenbeck” which ran in 2017.
In that submission, Hollenbeck recounted his earlier years, including how he became a doctor, and how his faith led him to practice medicine out of the country as a medical missionary through the Christian Medical Society. He was assigned to Honduras in Central America, first serving on the Miskito Coast before moving to a small coastal town called Cocobila.
“There I helped to establish a clinic and train several women to function as nurses to care for the local Miskito Indian population,” wrote Hollenbeck. Later in that same article, Hollenbeck wrote, “I appreciate the positive feedback I’ve had from so many of you and I plan to continue this endeavor for as long as I am able to do so,” a subtle nod to his cancer diagnosis.
In 2016, Hollenbeck was honored by the San Lorenzo Valley Chamber of Commerce as Man of the Year, and his star power in the valley only grew from there. A Press Banner column that same year in which he detailed the differences between palliative and hospice care was especially helpful to so many in our community, but it also seemed to be a harbinger of things to come for Hollenbeck.
Hollenbeck’s sister, Sue Zieche, told a story about her brother, who got a summer job as a cement truck driver after graduating from high school in Wisconsin.
“He would come home and say, ‘I had a practice run, and I can’t stop that truck!’ He said it was the scariest thing he’d ever done in his life. But just like he did with everything else, he stuck with it, and after that experience, he thought he could drive anything,” said Zieche.
Sue’s husband, retired Presbyterian Pastor Bill Zieche, led the memorial service for Hollenbeck at Chaminade. Bill said he knew Hollenbeck for 30 years.
“When my church did annual youth mission trips in the United States, Terry would always join us. Every fourth year, we would go to Guatemala and build schools, and Terry was always interested in that,” Bill said. “After several years, our schedules finally aligned, and he came with us to help. He did another trip with a men’s group that built bridges in Guatemala. He just so enjoyed the camaraderie of those trips, and he was always interested in how God was at work through him.”
Added Sue Zieche: “Helping anybody was his passion.”
One little known fact about Hollenbeck: He taught Sunday school for kids with special needs from eighth grade through high school.
“He loved them, they loved him, and I think he lived his Christian values throughout his life,” said Sue.
Lee May, who founded a number of Santa Cruz weeklies and eventually sold one of his publications to the Good Times, also suffers from multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer that primarily affects the bones and immune system. He was diagnosed two years before Hollenbeck.
“I can tell you, when you receive a diagnosis like that, it is scary and disorienting. Friends and relations have a difficult time knowing how to respond and, frankly, the response is often well-meaning, but not good,” May said. “People just don’t know what to say or how to react. Terry and I used to joke that friends would often say ‘you look great.’ We would often look at each other and say, ‘You look great,’ as a sort of joke.”
Because there were no support groups in the area, Hollenbeck and May started their own. The meetings were first held in the basement of his church in Felton. Hollenbeck started every meeting by going around the room and asking everyone, whether patient or caregiver, “Tell us your story.”
“Participants instantly realized that this was a safe space to express their trials and tribulations, their fears, their emotions and what they learned about dealing with the illness and its treatments,” May said. “As a result, I got more good information from these meetings than I could ever find online. In fact, some of what we learned we shared with our doctors, educating them a little about this relatively rare cancer. But not Terry.
“He published the news in his weekly newspaper column ‘The Valley Doctor,’ in the Press Banner. A newspaper that is mailed to over 10,000 homes. To my thinking, that was an incredibly brave thing to do. And it was fortuitous for me. I was hungry for any resource to help me navigate my life. After all, the prognosis for survival at that time was 2-4 years. And here was Terry, this respected local doctor. What better resource to have.”
Boulder Creek’s Meggie Rhodeos was fortunate to know Hollenbeck as a family friend as well as a physician. When her husband James was sick and in excruciating pain they went to the Scotts Valley Urgent Care and saw Hollenbeck.
“We weren’t seeking medication—we were seeking answers and hope,” Rhodeos said.
Before meeting with Hollenbeck, James had undergone a spinal fusion procedure that was unsuccessful, and no doctors would assist him with his chronic discomfort; they accused him of drug seeking. It was later discovered that James had MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and bone spurs.
“During that time, Terry met with James as a person, and really heard his concerns. Beyond that, Terry stepped out of his physician role, and prayed with James to let him know that there was hope beyond this pain,” Rhodeos said. “It was exactly what was needed. Nobody could tell us what would come in the future, but it was the peace that Terry gave him that was so desperately needed and appreciated.”
Even during his protracted illness, Hollenbeck’s friends and family noted how his relentless optimism, sense of humor and deep faith kept him in good spirits. Each memory shared at the Celebration of Life shone a little more light upon Hollenbeck, including a story from one of their Ben Lomond neighbors, John Park.
Park had tried to plant bamboo along his property’s fence line, but struggled to get the bamboo to take hold.
“I’d see Terry outside most days, and when he asked how I was doing, I would share my frustration with the bamboo not taking,” Park said. “One day, I was walking on my property, and I stepped on the scoop-end of the shovel, which launched the handle of the tool right up into my head. Bleeding, I went to urgent care, and waited for the doctor on duty. Terry walked into my treatment room, took one look at me and said, ‘This isn’t about that bamboo, is it?’”
Beth said her husband was a “people person.”
“He enjoyed life and surrounded himself with great company,” she said. “Terry was a curious person and always pursued knowledge and working on being his best self, always learning and growing. He was such a fun partner, best friend and confidant. It was never a boring day with Terry Hollenbeck.”
In January of 2021, Hollenbeck filed his final report with the Press Banner. He told then-reporter Katie Evans in reference to his cancer diagnosis, “Now that I’ve gone through the traditional treatments, we’re not sure what lies ahead,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we can find other treatments and keep going.”
Beth said Hollenbeck loved his children and grandson. It was that love that made him fight hard, she added.
“Because he didn’t want to leave his loved ones, and he knew we didn’t want to be without him,” she said. “In the end, it was just God’s will to bring him home. He was so tired and he knew his time was drawing near. He is dearly missed, but he is free from his disease and that brings us some peace. We carry with us his lessons, sense of humor and integrity. He will always be with us.”
Hollenbeck’s advice will live in perpetuity, first at valleydoctor.wordpress.com, where his weekly columns for the Press Banner are archived, and in his book “House Calls: Guidance on Common Medical Topics,” available at bit.ly/3CYMgzL. In lieu of flowers, consider making a gift in memory of Terry Hollenbeck to the University of California San Francisco Stephen and Nancy Grand Multiple Myeloma Translational Initiative. To make a gift, visit makeagift.ucsf.edu/grandmmti, or send a donation payable to “UCSF Foundation” to UCSF Foundation, PO Box 45339, San Francisco, CA 94145. All donations are tax-deductible.