Retired teacher fights, wins cancer thanks to early detection
September 4, 2013
Two years ago, Jules Liebke saw an article in The Union newspaper about a SNMH screening for prostate cancer. He enrolled, and was one of about 50 local men who are diagnosed with this disease every year.
If you're a man of middle age, and ask Liebke whether you should be screened, he would encourage you to do it. He won't know for another year whether his prostate cancer is cured, but meanwhile he's completed his treatments and plays senior softball six days a week and enjoys life.
Liebke, a retired fifth-grade teacher from Thousand Oaks now living in Grass Valley, said he saw no signs that he might have cancer.
"I was a vegetarian, non-smoker, one-beer-a-month guy," he said. "I tried to eat organic food, and stayed active playing senior softball six times a week. This prostate cancer diagnosis caught me way off guard."
Liebke's PSA test results revealed a high count (11, compared to the normal of 0 to 4), and his family doctor sent him to Dr. Alan Wong, a urology specialist. Dr. Wong verified the cancer with a 12-point needle test, and placed tiny pieces of gold into Liebke's prostate to target the beams of radiation that would be used to destroy the cancer.
Other options were also explored.
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"Some of the options included surgery in San Francisco, radiation seeds in Oakland, proton beams in Loma Linda, and radiation everywhere," Liebke recalled. "I found too many suggestions on cancer service options on the Internet."
Overwhelmed with information, Liebke went to Dr. Richard Evans, a radiation oncologist at the Sierra Nevada Community Cancer Center, to see what could be done locally.
"My wife and I thought we would have a 30-minute consultation, but he answered all of our questions and concerns over a two-hour period," Liebke said. "He was very informative and clearly explained the advantages of the new radiation equipment right here at the center in Grass Valley. Our community is on the razor's edge of technology."
He opted for local care and began a nine-week radiation program consisting of 43 treatments.
"They scheduled me so that I could still go to batting practice from 7:30 to 9 a.m., come home and shower, drink my 30 ounces of water, and then go to radiation, which took about 25 minutes," Liebke said. "I had an entire team of 10 to 12 medical personnel that were there for me. In the waiting room there were volunteers playing harps – very calming. Dr. Evans encouraged me to stay active. I played senior softball three nights and some double-headers on Saturdays. I stayed fit physically and emotionally, and my wife and I went out to lunch every day to enjoy 'the moment.'"
Liebke was encouraged when both Dr. Evans and Dr. Wong told him if he acted immediately to get treatment, there was a 93 percent, 10-year cure rate.
"I was tempted to watch and wait," Liebke said, "but the sooner I acted, the higher the cure rate."
Although he has a year to wait, Liebke said, "I feel confident that I won this battle with cancer."
Did his cancer experience change his life?
"Actually, my life was changed when my wife got cancer over six years ago," he said. "She was the person who kept on motivating me to get the best treatments possible, and to beat this. I bought extra time to be with her, my children, and grandchildren."
Liebke also attends a monthly support group at the SNMH Community Cancer Center.
"I have an almost personal psychologist there who checks on my mental well being. I'm usually OK unless my team loses our games," he said.
Liebke was so impressed with the Cancer Center staff that he has presented them with white baseball caps with the red letters, A.C.T.
"Both doctors helped me to make the decision to act to cure my cancer," he said. "The letters stand for that and also for my anti-cancer-team."
He was also impressed by the employees at Perko's restaurant, who were willing to customize all of his lunches to meet his medical needs. "They were very accommodating," he said.
Walking around with gold in his prostate, Liebke said he now refers to himself as "Jules Liebke, a.k.a. Golden Boy."
The Sierra Nevada Community Cancer Center is holding its annual screening next Tuesday (Sept. 10) starting at 5:30 p.m. and there is still time to register, according to Pati Stinnett, RN, who is coordinating the event. The screening consists of answering questions about one's health history (optional), taking a blood test to measure PSA, and, if requested, having a digital rectal exam. There is a $20 charge to cover lab expenses. She said men from 40 to 75 are invited to make appointments and may do so by calling her at 530-274-6635.
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