Behind the Scenes at Shaw Regional Cancer Center
The Shaw Regional Cancer Center is one of the most visible landmarks in Edwards. But aside from patients, not many people get to see how the place operates.
In an effort to give the general public a better look at how the local cancer treatment facility works, people at Vail Valley Medical Center lead occasional tours of the Shaw Center.
This week, Dr. Jack Eck, one of the people responsible for the center's existence, led a small group around the clinic, from the treatment rooms to the pharmacy.
The tour started in Jack's Place, a "caring house" named after Eck, where out-of-town residents coming to Edwards can stay while receiving treatment, or people can take rest and recuperate if they're receiving multiple treatments in a day.
The caring house can host nearly a dozen patients - along with a family member or two each - in luxury-home comfort. There's a common kitchen, a library and even a meditation room for people who just want a few moments of soft light and softer cushions.
The idea for Jack's Place was born not long after the cancer center opened. A doctor at the center one morning found a patient from Routt County sleeping in his pickup between treatments. Four years and about $4.5 million in donations later, the caring house opened. The Shaw Outreach Team, the volunteers who led the effort, voted to name the place for Eck, who pitched the cancer center idea to Shaw.
But having his name on the door isn't why Eck's such a fan of
the caring house - he's a fan because of the community effort that
helped create the place.
A labor of love
Much of the work on Jack's Place was either donated or done at very favorable rates. A lot of the furniture was donated by The Lodge at Vail before a big renovation job, so the appointments are lush.
But people literally put their hearts on the line to build the caring house. At a special reception for the people who built the caring house just before it opened, Eck said he was amazed by the stories he heard from the people on the construction crews. Workers would point to stonework they finished, or woodwork or paint they were particularly proud of. Most told Eck they did the work thinking about loved ones.
"Everybody's been touched by cancer," he said.
Jack's Place is the exact opposite of a hospital - it's warm, welcoming, and there's no medical equipment anywhere in sight. But much of the Shaw Center feels the same way.
There's medical equipment aplenty in the cancer center, of course, but much of the clinic is designed to put people at ease - even the big, scary-looking machines like the linear accelerator radiation treatment machine.
Eck said many hospitals put their radiation machines behind feet of concrete.
"It can feel like you're in a bank vault," Eck said.
At the Shaw Center, the machine is behind a winding maze of hallways. There are sculptures and soft colors, and patients on the treatment table are able to stare up at a sky-painted ceiling.
And, since radiation treatments kill healthy tissue as well as tumors, the machine at the Shaw Center is pinpoint-accurate. It can direct radiation within millimeters of where it needs to be.
There's enough equipment in the center that uses radiation that there's a full-time nuclear physicist on staff, too.
Squeezing and caring
The comforting environment includes the Sonnenalp Breast Imaging Diagnostic Imaging Center.
Colleen Berga, the breast imaging director at the center, said the facility is "tiny but mighty." It's also as focused on keeping people as comfortable as possible, with cozy changing/waiting rooms, soft colors and art on the walls. It's all very un-hospital-like.
The equipment is all up-to-date, and technicians and doctors can evaluate images anywhere from the next room to the next continent. The center has a digital mammography machine - which made the only 40-plus woman on the tour pale a bit when she saw it, and prompted Berga to say, "We compress because we care."
The center also has one of fewer than 20 "Sono Cine" machines in the country. That machine uses ultrasound instead of X-rays, the better for early detection of cancer in women with dense breast tissue.
The last stop on the tour was the chemotherapy treatment area, where people get various drug treatments to attack their cancers.
Like the rest of the center, much of the medical equipment is out of sight unless it's in use. There are a couple of private rooms, a couple of semi-private rooms and a group room that looks out over a small garden, and out across Interstate 70 toward Edwards and Arrowhead.
Eck said patients often start treatments in a private or semi-private room, then end up in the big room so they can talk with 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 a new perspective on cancer and the way it's treated.
A physician for more than 40 years, Eck said he's most impressed by the ability to quickly diagnose cancer, and the new tools available to treat it.
Eck retired from medical practice a few years ago - he's now the senior director of development for Vail Valley Medical Center - but said he's kind of sorry he's no longer involved in patient treatment.
"With the advances we've seen, what we'll see in the next 20 years will just be amazing," he said.
• The Shaw Regional Cancer Center has a "Sono Cine" ultrasound breast imaging machine. It's one of about 15 in the country.
• The center carries no debt, thanks to a $17 million gift from Harold and Mary Louise Shaw about 12 years ago.
• The center's medical library has a full-time librarian on staff and is open to the public.
• Jack's Place, the "caring house" just yards from the Shaw Center, accepts donations from people who stay there while receiving treatment, but doesn't charge anyone.
• The "linear accelerator" used for radiation treatment is nearing the end of its useful life. Replacing the machine is about a $7 million project, and will require construction of a new treatment room.