Monday Medical: Giving back to fight cancer

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— Eric Marks has lost so much to a rare and devastating cancer. He lost his job, his home and a body part that most of us don’t even know we have.

But he has retained his appreciation for the community of Steamboat Springs and would like to help others in need.

That’s why Eric has formed a team for Ski 4 Yellow, a cancer fundraising event that takes place this weekend. Weakened by surgeries, a radical procedure, complications and chemotherapy treatment, he is not sure how many runs he will be able to take. But he will be there.

Last winter, Eric was planning to participate in the 2011 Ski 4 Yellow until his life took a drastic turn. Plagued by intense abdominal pain, he sought medical answers that were not immediately forthcoming.

Finally, a scan at Yampa Valley Medical Center turned up some really bad news. Eric was told that his omentum, a membrane inside the abdomen that separates muscles from internal organs, was “completely saturated with tumors.”

Thus began Eric’s second cancer odyssey. He had been “clean” for 12 years following removal of a tumor in his large intestine. This time, his cancer care became a tale of two hospitals in two cities.

University Hospital in Denver provided the specialized surgery he needed, and YVMC provided care and support that allowed him to live at home and begin to heal. Eric’s determination got him through very difficult times.

“I was in so much pain,” he said. “I went to Denver the next day, and they said I needed surgery. I had tumors throughout my abdomen. Within 24 hours, I was on the operating table.”

Dr. Nathan Pearlman removed Eric’s omentum and the large tumors. Eric remembered that Pearlman told him “it didn’t look good.” In fact, it was Stage 4 peritoneal carcinomatosis.

After five rounds of chemotherapy in Steamboat, it was time for another Denver surgery and a procedure called the “sugarbaker.” Every visible tumor was removed, “zapped” or scraped away. Then chemotherapy medications heated to 150 degrees were pumped directly into Eric’s abdominal cavity and drained after 90 minutes.

Eric spent 56 days in University Hospital recovering from serious complications. While there, his Steamboat employer called to say he no longer had a job. He and his wife, Nancy Blank, lost their home, moved into an apartment and declared bankruptcy.

The one hopeful light came in the form of YVMC Cancer Services Director Jan Fritz, who was always there to provide cancer navigation services and offer financial assistance.

“Jan has coordinated everything with my chemo nurses, oncologists, surgeon, the Visiting Nurse Association — I don’t know what I would have done without her,” Eric said. “We wouldn’t have been able to stay in Steamboat without Jan, YVMC’s cancer and financial assistance programs and 4 Yellow organization helping us.”

Eric is on a chemo regimen and describes his oncology nurses at YVMC as “saviors.” He is smoothing out some of the rough edges of his life with holistic care in YVMC’s Integrated Health program and strengthening his core through specialized physical therapy treatments at SportsMed with Mary Beth Strotbeck.

He is one of the first YVMC cancer patients to receive the Fitbit, provided by a 4 Yellow grant. The device will help Eric track exercise, sleep and calorie intake to improve his health.

Eric will fight through the fatigue and physical challenges to get out on the slopes Saturday. He and his wife, along with friends Amy Garris and Kimberly Walker, are on the aptly named Team Mojo.

If you’d like to help Team Mojo or other Ski 4 Yellow participants, visit www.ski4yellow.com and donate to a team or individual.

“I really want to give back to the community that has given so much to me,” Eric said.

Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at christine.mckelvie@yvmc.org.

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