Kaneville man takes cancer & life in stride

By on February 6, 2009

by Susan O’Neill
Dutch Phillips has pancreatic cancer, but he refuses to let it get him down.

“I’ve never been a person that cries over spilt milk,” the Kaneville resident said. “I never felt sorry for myself. It happened-deal with it; and that’s what I do.”

When his cancer was first diagnosed January 2008, Dutch said his doctor gave him three to six months to live. He told him the cancer was inoperable, and the initial treatment he hoped would shrink the tumor did not work. Dutch lost more than 60 pounds in the first three months, and he became jaundiced.

“I didn’t think I’d see my 65th birthday,” he said.

A little more than a year later, Dutch has gained some of his weight back, his jaundice is gone, and his doctor told him at Christmas that the tumor had stopped growing.

He said he’s not sick, just a little down on his energy for a bit after his chemotherapy treatment. He has chemo three out of four Mondays, and takes a chemo pill every day.

“I feel good nine out of 10 days,” he said. “(My wife) Jane and I feel very lucky. I’m glad to see every day that comes along.”

Dutch knows just about everyone in Kaneville, but he didn’t realize how many friends he really had until he found out about the cancer. For all but six days during the six months following his diagnosis, someone was there to visit him, he said.

“You know you have friends,” Dutch said. “But you don’t really know until something like this happens.”

He said that the Kaneville community has supported him from the time he and his family moved there when he was 14 years old. His folks ran an egg business from their home at Harter and Main Street roads. When Dutch wasn’t working for his father, he had jobs mowing lawns and weeding flower beds.

One day, when he was mowing a neighbor’s yard, he noticed some delicious-looking grapes growing in the yard next door. He was helping himself to the grapes when a friend of his father’s approached him.

“I don’t think your dad would like you doing that,” the man said. “Dutch, I’m not going to tell your dad this time, but if I ever catch you doing this again, I will.”

Dutch said that at the time he was a teenager, so he probably did not appreciate what the man was doing for him. Today, however, Dutch credits him for helping his parents raise him and keeping him out of trouble.

“When you’re in a small town, you know everybody’s watching you,” Dutch said. “They set you on the straight and narrow.”

Dutch and Jane met in 1960 when they were both in high school. The couple married in 1964 and moved into a house across the street from where he grew up. They still live there.

They raised four children: Deanna and Denise and twin boys Keith and Kevin. They have six grandchildren and two step-grandchildren.

When Russ Wendling and his family moved to Kaneville 20 years ago, he wanted to learn about the town and its history. Knowing Dutch would be a good source, Wendling asked him to take a walk with him and tell him about the community.

Wendling said Dutch knew who lived in every house and something about them. Then they took a walk through the cemetery.

Despite his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, longtime Kaneville residents Dutch and Jane Phillips have much to smile about. Photos by Sarah Rivers

Despite his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, longtime Kaneville residents Dutch and Jane Phillips have much to smile about. Photos by Sarah Rivers

“We made a day of it,” Wendling said.

Wendling said he goes to visit Dutch most Sunday afternoons since he learned of his illness.

“Sometimes it takes something like somebody getting cancer to make a special effort,” he said. “I guess that’s kind of the way life is sometimes. I sure have a lot of good memories of the past year.”

He said that at first, it was a fact-finding mission. There was almost a sense of urgency, because he realized that someday Dutch wouldn’t be here and all that history will be gone.

“Now, it’s more relaxed,” he said. “We just kind of let the spirit lead us on the topic.”

Jack Richtman, a fellow parish member of St. Gall Catholic Church in Elburn, also began visiting Dutch when he found out about his cancer. He said he didn’t know at first that it was going to be a weekly thing, but he’s been coming most Fridays for the past year.

“He likes to talk, and I like to listen,” Richtman said with a laugh.

He said they talk about Dutch’s cancer sometimes, but they don’t dwell on it. The two men share an interest in gardening, and they talk about sports and politics, as well.

Dutch has had a large vegetable garden for more than 40 years, where he has grown “everything from A to Z.” Last year, he was not up to it, and he said he is looking forward to getting back into his garden this spring.

“I just try to live my life as normal as possible,” he said.

He said his doctors have told him that a person’s attitude and mental frame of mind helps keep them alive longer. He may just be walking proof of that.

He talks excitedly about his and Jane’s travels, including trips to England, Scotland, Wales and France, and scenic steam engine train rides in areas from Iowa to Maine. He flips through a book with pictures of steam engines, pointing out the trains they have been on.

He shows visitors his yearbook, and points out the many classmates of his that still live in the area.

His sense of humor is still intact.

Recently, he had a few kidney stones removed. The anesthesiologist was commiserating with him before he put him under.

“This is a pain,” the man said.

“Kidney stones are nothing,” Dutch told him with a grin. “I’m dying of pancreatic cancer.”

Dutch said he owes his parents for his acceptance of the things life hands him.

“They showed us how to take the bad with the good,” he said.

He said that since he was diagnosed with cancer, he lives life day by day. He spends his time with Jane, his grandchildren, his family and his friends.

“I don’t feel cheated in life,” he said. “I’ve had a good life, married a fine woman, my kids turned out to be decent, good American citizens. Nothing will ever take the smile off of my face.”

Dutch said his mom died at 60 with colon cancer.

“She died with dignity and I learned the lesson from her,” he said. “I’m bound and determined to show my kids the same lesson.”


  1. Kathy (Milnamow) Chwee

    February 6, 2009 at 8:44 PM

    God bless you. My dad, Tom Milnamow, of Maple Park, died of colon cancer in February, 2002. He lived his life with the same values as I read about in this article. He showed his wife, Dorothy, we eight children and his grandchildren how to live and also how to die with love, courage and dignity. Thank you for sharing your story and may you look forward to growing a garden again soon. Two of my favorite things to grow in my limited city space are zinnias and various sunflowers. They are easy to grow, fun to cut and give and last past frost. Take care.

  2. Karen & Richard Fraher

    February 8, 2009 at 9:58 PM

    I was reading your article in the Elburn Herald on line. Our
    daughter lives in Sugar Grove and called us to read it. My husband
    was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last Feb. His is wrapped
    around his bile duct and several arteries and into the pancreas.
    We were sent up to Mayos. They inserted a stint in the bile duct.
    The surgeon said it was too dangerous for surgery. She gave him
    just a few short months. She suggested chemo and the pill Tarceva.
    We go to Bloomington, Il. every Monday for chemo. Takes the pill
    every day. We live in Pontiac, Il. My husband is 68. He has never
    been sick, only very tired a lot. He has had 32 chemo treatments.
    All the scans he has show it is shrinking. We are praying.
    The best of luck to you. Karen & Richard Fraher

  3. mike the taxpayer

    February 9, 2009 at 8:19 PM

    Glad you’re still smiling.

  4. Doug Wielert

    February 27, 2009 at 9:11 AM

    I practically grew up at the Phillip’s household and the values and life lessons learned there have stuck with me to this day. I will always remember that Dutch and Jane’s sons Keith and Kevin could NOT go outside to play until the dishes were done…. so there I was, usually with our friend Derek, helping dry the dishes so we could hurry and get outside. I also will always remember the day of a father/son baseball game, when (because of situations at my home) Dutch suggested that I go with him and the boys. These things are not lost after years, but live and grow with a person and shape who they are. Best of luck to you both, Dutch and Jane. I hope to see both of you soon.
    With love…
    Doug Wielert

  5. Brandon

    March 28, 2009 at 4:59 PM

    I’m so glad to hear that Dutch is doing better…if more people in this world had an outlook like him it would be a far better place…

    And I bet he can still toss a baseball with the best of em too!