Battling Bruin: Eric

Posted April 2014

This Battling Bruin believes that the saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” is a fitting theme to his life.

In Oct. 2010, Eric Mansker ’76 went in for knee surgery. It wasn’t a big deal, after all he had been a stuntman in the film and television industry for more than 30 years. After surgery though, Eric developed serious complications and it took three painful weeks in and out of the hospital before he found out he had a rare type of cancer called a pheochromocytoma; a tumor of adrenal gland tissue, stage 4.

Eric was born and raised in Chicago. As a 10-year-old, he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. His doctors said his body had begun to fight off the disease along with the treatments, limiting his physical activity for about a year. Eric used to watch the other kids playing from his front porch longing to join them. Needless to say, his parents had become a little over protective, but he couldn’t blame them.

Eric gradually began playing with his friends as often as he could, albeit by sneaking out. In high school, he felt he was ready to resume his childhood joy of sports and tried out for the track team. He made the team as a hurdler and high jumper but had to get consent from his parents. Lucky for Eric, his doctor agreed that it was the best thing for his continued health.

During his time on the team everyone had their favorite athletic heroes, his included the Olympic hurdler, Rafer Johnson, a UCLA man along with Jackie Robinson. His favorite movie star was Woody Strode, another UCLA alumnus--so his ties to UCLA were sealed. After Rafer won gold in the 1960 Olympics, Eric had an opportunity to run against him at an open invitational meet in Chicago. Eric, finishing a close second, was on top of the world when Rafer shook his hand.

Eric had scholarship offers from numerous Midwest schools but didn’t know what he wanted to do, so he enlisted in the Marines after high school. The Vietnam War was raging on and Eric admits that he wanted to prove himself in some way, but this was a bad idea for him. He admits that it’s not like in the movies; it’s horrible, frightening and he describes it as mankind at its worst. By the time his enlistment was up, he knew what he wanted to do and enrolled in the cinema program at Los Angeles City College. After a year Eric transferred to UCLA where he spent some of the best years of his life.

After graduation, it took Eric two years to really break into the film and television industry, first as an extra and then as a stuntman. The skills he learned running track, being a marine and as member of the cheer squad at UCLA helped him easily transition into stunts. At this time, physical fitness was a part of his daily life; so in the early 90’s, he clearly noticed that his stamina was starting to wane. He couldn’t sleep at night and was always tired throughout the day. After seeing his doctor, Eric was diagnosed with a hyperthyroid condition call “Graves.” It had become clear after six months that medication wasn’t effective, so he opted for radiation treatment on the thyroid gland and has been on Synthroid medication ever since.

In 2003, Eric’s doctor found that he had an enlarged adrenal gland on his right side. For the last three years, he has been taking chemotherapy and radiation treatments which have taken a toll on his body as it does most people. The radiation was the worst for him and the chemo wasn’t any better, losing 53 pounds in less than a month. The constant nausea and vomiting and the inability to eat or drink due to the nausea left him weak and dehydrated. Coupled with high blood pressure, standing up for Eric was almost impossible. For awhile, he thought he might die, but Eric still felt he had much to live for and too much left to do.

Eric has three incredible children who have been there for him every step of the way. They tended to all his daily needs and business. His extended family and friends gave him the support he needed to get himself well again. Eric chose an aggressive treatment of chemotherapy and because the cancer is a slow growth cancer, he did have some time to seek out specialists for this particular type of cancer. He found one specialist through the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., and got the name of a doctor in New York City’s Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who had developed a treatment and was looking for study patients.

Today we are happy to announce that Eric is on the mend. He has regained much of his weight and has resumed many of his favorite activities. He continues to battle each day, but this is a battle he is winning!

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