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Behind the Scenes at Shaw Regional Cancer Center

Scott Miller | Kristin Anderson The Vail Daily

The Shaw Regional Cancer Center is one of the most visiblelandmarks in Edwards. But aside from patients not many people getto see how the place operates.

In an effort to give the general public a better look at how thelocal cancer treatment facility works people at Vail ValleyMedical Center lead occasional tours of the Shaw Center.

This week Dr. Jack Eck one of the people responsible for thecenter's existence led a small group around the clinic from thetreatment rooms to the pharmacy.

The tour started in Jack's Place a "caring house" named afterEck where out-of-town residents coming to Edwards can stay whilereceiving treatment or people can take rest and recuperate ifthey're receiving multiple treatments in a day.

The caring house can host nearly a dozen patients - along with afamily member or two each - in luxury-home comfort. There's acommon kitchen a library and even a meditation room for people whojust want a few moments of soft light and softer cushions.

The idea for Jack's Place was born not long after the cancercenter opened. A doctor at the center one morning found a patientfrom Routt County sleeping in his pickup between treatments. Fouryears and about $4.5 million in donations later the caring houseopened. The Shaw Outreach Team the volunteers who led the effortvoted to name the place for Eck who pitched the cancer center ideato Shaw.

But having his name on the door isn't why Eck's such a fan ofthe caring house - he's a fan because of the community effort thathelped create the place.

A labor of love
Much of the work on Jack's Place was either donated ordone at very favorable rates. A lot of the furniture was donated byThe Lodge at Vail before a big renovation job so the appointmentsare lush.

But people literally put their hearts on the line to build thecaring house. At a special reception for the people who built thecaring house just before it opened Eck said he was amazed by thestories he heard from the people on the construction crews. Workerswould point to stonework they finished or woodwork or paint theywere particularly proud of. Most told Eck they did the workthinking about loved ones.

"Everybody's been touched by cancer" he said.

Jack's Place is the exact opposite of a hospital - it's warmwelcoming and there's no medical equipment anywhere in sight. Butmuch of the Shaw Center feels the same way.

There's medical equipment aplenty in the cancer center ofcourse but much of the clinic is designed to put people at ease -even the big scary-looking machines like the linear acceleratorradiation treatment machine.

Eck said many hospitals put their radiation machines behind feetof concrete.

"It can feel like you're in a bank vault" Eck said.

At the Shaw Center the machine is behind a winding maze ofhallways. There are sculptures and soft colors and patients on thetreatment table are able to stare up at a sky-painted ceiling.

And since radiation treatments kill healthy tissue as well astumors the machine at the Shaw Center is pinpoint-accurate. It candirect radiation within millimeters of where it needs to be.

There's enough equipment in the center that uses radiation thatthere's a full-time nuclear physicist on staff too.

Squeezing and caring
The comforting environment includes the Sonnenalp BreastImaging Diagnostic Imaging Center.

Colleen Berga the breast imaging director at the center saidthe facility is "tiny but mighty." It's also as focused on keepingpeople as comfortable as possible with cozy changing/waitingrooms soft colors and art on the walls. It's all veryun-hospital-like.

The equipment is all up-to-date and technicians and doctors canevaluate images anywhere from the next room to the next continent.The center has a digital mammography machine - which made the only40-plus woman on the tour pale a bit when she saw it and promptedBerga to say "We compress because we care."

The center also has one of fewer than 20 "Sono Cine" machines inthe country. That machine uses ultrasound instead of X-rays thebetter for early detection of cancer in women with dense breasttissue.

The last stop on the tour was the chemotherapy treatment areawhere people get various drug treatments to attack theircancers.

Like the rest of the center much of the medical equipment isout of sight unless it's in use. There are a couple of privaterooms a couple of semi-private rooms and a group room that looksout over a small garden and out across Interstate 70 towardEdwards and Arrowhead.

Eck said patients often start treatments in a private orsemi-private room then end up in the big room so they can talkwith other patients.

Eck's had first-hand experience with the treatment at Shaw -he's a prostate cancer survivor something he said has given him anew perspective on cancer and the way it's treated.

A physician for more than 40 years Eck said he's most impressedby the ability to quickly diagnose cancer and the new toolsavailable to treat it.

Eck retired from medical practice a few years ago - he's now thesenior director of development for Vail Valley Medical Center - butsaid he's kind of sorry he's no longer involved in patienttreatment.

"With the advances we've seen what we'll see in the next 20years will just be amazing" he said.

Five facts:
• The Shaw Regional Cancer Center has a "Sono Cine"ultrasound breast imaging machine. It's one of about 15 in thecountry.
• The center carries no debt thanks to a $17 million gift fromHarold and Mary Louise Shaw about 12 years ago.
• The center's medical library has a full-time librarian on staffand is open to the public.
• Jack's Place the "caring house" just yards from the ShawCenter accepts donations from people who stay there whilereceiving treatment but doesn't charge anyone.
• The "linear accelerator" used for radiation treatment is nearingthe end of its useful life. Replacing the machine is about a $7million project and will require construction of a new treatmentroom.