Ex-Falcons rugby pro Tank loses cancer fight

Paul Van-Zandvliet with wife Helen and daughter Hope Elle.
Paul Van-Zandvliet with wife Helen and daughter Hope Elle.
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A rugby hero who lost his cancer battle has been hailed as courageous and inspirational for the way he fought against the illness and tried to help others suffering from the life-threatening condition.

The death of ex-Newcastle Falcons star Paul Van-Zandvliet was announced yesterday. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and cancer of the kidneys and liver last year.

The 50-year-old, from North Shields, used to run the Falcon’s Rest in Alnwick.

He leaves wife Helen and children Ryan, Lloyd, Leon, Paul Jnr and Hope Elle – described as daddy’s princess.

Nicknamed Tank in his playing days, the father-of-five was determined to fight the condition as he underwent gruelling rounds of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

He also used every opportunity to raise awareness of the desperate need for more funding for research into brain tumours so that better treatments and ultimately a cure can be found.

He collaborated with Brain Tumour Research to ‘shine a spotlight on this neglected cancer’, by sharing his story and speaking on the day of the Parliamentary debate into brain tumours on ITV Tyne Tees last year, as well as organising fund-raising events.

He also pledged to collect money for Cancer Research UK, Newcastle RVI and Freeman hospitals, Restart Rugby and the foundation set up to support his beloved daughter, Hope Elle.

Speaking last year, Tank said: “You can’t imagine how my family and I felt on discovering that I had three types of cancer. I vowed to take on the fight of my life and as long as I lived and had the strength within me, I would continue to fight.

“I am also keen to use every opportunity to raise awareness and I hope that when I am gone my family will continue this vital task.”

Tank joined the Falcons at Kingston Park in 1992 and was part of the side that won the Premiership title in 1998.

He retired in 1999, but remained part of the local rugby scene with involvements at North Shields, Percy Park and Whitley Bay Rockliffe.

A benefit game was staged at the Falcons’ ground last year to raise funds for charities and Tank’s family.

A statement on the Falcons’ website read: ‘Having been diagnosed with his illness, he met his condition in typically uncompromising fashion and set about raising funds for charity and for the foundation set up to support Hope Elle.

‘All at Newcastle Falcons extend their deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to Paul’s family and friends at this difficult time. Funeral details will be confirmed by the family in due course.’