Giving thanks for years of prostate cancer treatment: Kurt Glover-Ettrich

Patient Spotlight

Born in Stimmersdorf, Czech Republic, in 1943, Kurt Glover-Ettrich was just an infant when his father was forced by the Nazi Party to fight for the German army on the Eastern Front during World War II. While his father reluctantly fought for the Germans, young Kurt and his mother were uprooted from their home and forcibly taken to the largest and arguably the most infamous of all Nazi death camps: Auschwitz.

Kurt during a recent volunteer shift at Mayo Clinic.

After a year inside Auschwitz, Kurt and his mother were in the process of being moved to a second concentration camp — Dauchau — in southwestern Germany when opportunity struck after the train transporting them and other prisoners went off the tracks and crashed. They not only survived the crash but used it as a chance to escape their captors. As Kurt tells the Mayo Clinic News Network, “We kept going and kept going until we couldn’t hear any more dogs barking, screaming, shooting.”

Kurt and his mother would spend the next four months on the run doing whatever was necessary to avoid being re-captured by the Nazis. Kurt’s father wasn’t so lucky, having been taken prisoner by the Soviet army. When the war ended, Kurt and his mother hoped they’d finally be reunited with him. “Trains would come from Russia and bring home POWs,” Kurt says.

And so, from 1945 to 1949, Kurt and his mother religiously went to meet the “train bringing soldiers home” twice a year hoping to find his father. During the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in 1949, they got their wish. “We heard a faint voice, ‘Ester, bist du das? (Ester is that you?)’” Kurt tells Mayo Clinic News Network. “We turned around, it was my father.”

Together again, Kurt’s parents would later decide to leave their homeland in favor of immigrating to the United States. Years later, after he turned 18, Kurt made the move official by becoming an American citizen. “Tears came down my cheek,” he says. “I was so happy.”

So happy, in fact, that Kurt chose to express the gratitude he felt for his new home and new life by enlisting to serve in the U.S. Army. “I wanted to give back,” he says. “It was the only way I could thank this great country called the United States of America and the American people for having allowed me to come here.”

After a 30-year military career that involved direct combat and facing hostile enemies as a Green Beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces, Kurt found himself facing a different kind of enemy when a prostate cancer diagnosis led him to Mayo Clinic, where for the past 22 years, he’s received regular care and treatment led by advanced prostate cancer specialist Eugene Kwon, M.D. “He’s spent as much time with me as possible, explaining things to me where I stood as far as my cancer,” Kurt says of Dr. Kwon. “And I know with him, I’m always in the best of hands.”

The same can be said for the laboratory medicine staff who have also been integral members of Kurt’s care team throughout the 22 years that he’s received care and treatment at Mayo Clinic.

“I appreciate that Dr. Kwon has scheduled me for regular lab testing throughout my treatment,” Kurt says. “By doing that, it provides Dr. Kwon with continued up-to-date information so that he can make the appropriate decision as far as treatment is concerned.”

Aggressive, individualized care

Throughout his 22 years of care, Dr. Kwon says Kurt’s treatment plan has mirrored that of other prostate cancer patients at Mayo Clinic. “We have a very aggressive plan for how we follow patients like Kurt,” Dr. Kwon says. “Basically, we use lab testing to track prostate-specific antigen, which is PSA, a blood marker, for prostate cancer every three months. In addition, we will also occasionally check to see how other organs in the body are functioning, such as bone metabolism, or markers in the liver, because these are areas that prostate cancer can spread to. And by monitoring those sites, you can sometimes figure out whether the cancer is starting to become active at sites outside of the prostate.”

Even though prostate cancer is often slow-growing, Dr. Kwon says regular lab testing is critical to staying on top of any changes in a patient’s health and disease state.

“I think one of the things we do very well here at Mayo is that we’re very aggressive, if not obsessive, about keeping track of these markers for our patients through testing,” he says. “Our general plan with all prostate cancer patients, including Kurt, is to check these markers every three months. Without that kind of diligent surveillance, a lot of patients would likely get in trouble.”

Dr. Kwon says the amount of individualized attention, treatment, and testing given to prostate cancer patients is part of what makes Mayo Clinic stand out from other healthcare providers.

“That happens to be one of the biggest patient complaints throughout the world — some doctors will say, ‘Oh, you don’t need testing, you don’t need to be followed, you’re fine.’ And then many patients get into trouble because of that,” he says. “And so, one of the reasons why our clinic is so popular for prostate cancer treatment is because patients have a true sense that we’re paying attention to them. I think just having someone watching and monitoring the situation gives patients great comfort that they’re not going to fall through the cracks.”

And comfort is exactly what Kurt says he’s felt throughout his 22 years as a prostate cancer patient of Mayo Clinic. “My overall experience with Mayo Clinic and their medical laboratories is that they have made me feel very comfortable,” he says. “They walk me through everything and make sure I understand exactly what’s being done and what I need to do to keep living my life.”

For Kurt, continuing to live his life not only means staying alive but also moving to Rochester, Minnesota, so that he can spend four hours a day volunteering for Mayo Clinic. “This was the perfect opportunity,” Kurt says of becoming a Mayo Clinic volunteer. “I knew there were patients coming through here, military people coming through here that I can relate to. Not only talk to these people, but uplift their spirits, and instill in them that there is hope, that they’re in the right place.”

Listen to Kurt share more of his story on Mayo Clinic News Network.

Cory Pedersen

Cory Pedersen is a senior marketing specialist for Mayo Clinic Laboratories.