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Doctor becomes the patient

Steve LynnVail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail Daily\Longtime Vail doctor, Jack Eck, who is recovering from prostate cancer, talks with Christy Remeta Wednesday in the Vail Valley Medical Center.
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EDWARDS Dr. Jack Eck was working in a local health clinic one night in Oct. 2005 when his urologist told him he had prostate cancer. Eck was stunned. Im the person thats used to giving a lot of people bad news over the years and when its you its different, said Eck, a doctor of internal medicine. When Eck was 29, he returned from Vietnam where he was a medic and moved to Vail. He later helped found the Shaw Regional Cancer Center in Edwards that serves mostly patients from Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin, Lake, Summit and Routt counties. For years, Eck had his blood drawn for prostate-specific antigen test, which helps doctors determine whether their patients have prostate cancer. In Oct. 2005, the results showed that Ecks levels of prostate-specific antigen had accelerated from previous tests. That meant Eck had prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer takes place when the cells of a mans prostate begin to divide uncontrollably. When treated early, prostate cancer can be cured in 90 percent of men, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundations Web site. This year, more than 218,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. The probability of a man getting prostate cancer is one in nine, said Dr. Granville Lloyd, director of urology at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center. That risk doubles if a father has had it and triples with a brother, he said. During an examination, doctors found Eck also had coronary heart disease. He began taking the drug Lupron, which made him ineligible for surgery on his prostate. When a mans level of prostate-specific antigen is too high, a doctor takes a biopsy to remove tissue and analyze it. Once diagnosed with cancer, the patient can get surgery to remove the prostate, radiation treatments or a combination of both.All options could lead to incontinence and impotence if nerves are damaged, though surgery poses the greatest risk. Eck chose radiation treatments. He now has a 19 percent chance of the cancer recurring in the next 15 years, but he thinks he has a better chance, he said.

Eck would arrive for cardiac rehabilitation at the Howard Head Cardiac Rehabilitation Center in Edwards at 6:30 a.m. Afterward, he went next door to the Shaw Regional Cancer Center. Eck would sit in a room wearing only a robe among other cancer patients waiting for radiation therapy.

I learned a lot more about what the patients are going through and what they were thinking about, he said.- The experience made him a better doctor, he said. The combination of radiation and Lupron exhausted him. The heart drug made him feel bloated, nauseated and irritable, he said. Some of my women patients said, Its about time you male doctors got it, we tried to tell you what it was like but your eyes just glaze over because it goes over your head, Eck said. Ecks wife of 10 years, Kathleen, said she lost sleep because she worried so much about him. Its a part of your life from the moment you hear about it, Kathleen Eck said. The cancer changed their relationship, she said. She and Eck made almost every decision together, and she saw the doctor with Eck, who underwent radiation five days each week for nine weeks. The radiation inflamed his urethra, forcing him to wake up and urinate as many as 10 times each night, he said, and now he knows the location of every bathroom on Vail Mountain, he said.Eck accepted the disease and then he adapted to the changes in his body.Once you get through the mental part its not all that traumatic, he said. He continued to see patients and worked on a shortened schedule, from 10 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. He was still determined to continue skiing but carefully, he said. Eck endured his 44th radiation treatment in January his final one and is regaining his strength, he said.

Eck and his doctor detected the disease early because Eck took prostate-specific antigen tests annually. He suffered little and his chances of survival increased because his doctor diagnosed the disease early, he said. When the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, chances of survival diminish and hardship increases. Years ago, Eck saw a patient whose cancer had spread to his bones, weakening them. The patient broke his back while getting out of his truck, Eck said. Cases like these occur when men put off getting tested, he said. Its especially important to take the test early, because prostate cancer is more aggressive in those stages, he said. Not enough men take the test, doctors say. Ecks hopes his story gets at least one man someones husband or someones father to take the test, he said.Kathleen Eck felt grateful that her husband took the prostate-specific antigen test. Once you know, then you can do something about it, she said. Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.


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