Western Carolina University Chancellor David O. Belcher, who has been battling brain cancer since April 2016, has announced plans to go on medical leave effective Sunday, Dec. 31. Belcher shared his decision Monday, Nov. 27, in a message to members of the university community.
“Despite the best efforts of my medical team, the effects of my glioblastoma brain tumor have continued to worsen in recent months, and the aphasic impact of the disease on my speech and communicative skills has become more pronounced. My medical team has concluded that the latest treatment regimen is not working as hoped,” he said. “Although I fully intend to explore additional options in my fight against this disease, I do not expect to resume my duties upon completion of leave.”
University of North Carolina System President Margaret Spellings said Belcher is “a fearless leader and steadfast in his commitment to WCU and the community it serves. His vision of a university that is deeply connected and aligned with the needs of its students and its region has transformed and improved WCU.”
“David is rightly beloved by the Catamount community for his kindness, integrity, passion, energy, sense of humor and leadership,” Spellings said. “I am profoundly grateful to David for his tireless work at WCU – his legacy and impact at WCU will continue for many years to come.”
The decision to request medical leave was a difficult one for Belcher and his wife, Susan, to make, he told the university community.
“Western Carolina University has been a blessing for us both, and we love this place. I have been honored to lead this fine institution. The university has fed my soul and fulfilled me in immeasurable ways, and Susan has found a true home here amongst friends and avenues of service. However, we agree that we must now concentrate on my health, each other and our families, and living life,” Belcher said.
“While I am disappointed in this turn of events, I am optimistic that the future is bright for Western Carolina University,” he said in his message to the campus community. “I am confident that each of you will do all that it takes to ensure that this university continues to change lives – the lives of our students, their families, their communities and this state.”
During the period of medical leave, Belcher will continue to hold the title of chancellor. The Belchers will live in the Chancellor’s Residence on the WCU campus and will remain active and engaged with the university community, although on a limited basis, he said.
“This is obviously very sad news, and I speak for all members of the Board of Trustees when I say that our thoughts and prayers are with David and Susan at this difficult time,” said Patricia B. Kaemmerling, chair of the board. “They have been an exceptional leadership team for Western Carolina University, and they have our sincere appreciation for all that they have done for this institution and the region that it serves. The Board of Trustees pledges to carry on the legacy of the transformative work that Chancellor Belcher has initiated at WCU and to move forward in honor of his hard work on behalf of our primary focus – our students.”
Belcher first announced that he had a small brain tumor on April 21, 2016, informing the campus of his diagnosis and of the plans he and his executive team had put into place to ensure continuity of operations of the university.
He underwent surgery in May 2016 at Duke University Hospital, a procedure initially thought to have been a success. After his recovery, he began an 11-month round of treatment consisting of both radiation therapy and chemotherapy followed by periods of rest and recovery that continued until June of this year. Belcher announced to the campus on Aug. 1 that the cancer had recurred, and that he would embark upon a new treatment regimen.
Belcher assumed the role of WCU’s chancellor on July 1, 2011. He was elected April 8, 2011, by the UNC Board of Governors after being nominated by then-UNC President Tom Ross to succeed John W. Bardo in the post. His installation ceremony was held March 29, 2012.