Pink Vail pays it forward: Stories from cancer patients surviving and thriving | VailDaily.com

Pink Vail pays it forward: Stories from cancer patients surviving and thriving

Daily staff report
newsroom@vaildaily.com

Pink Vail is the world's biggest ski day to conquer cancer, but it's not just a fun day on the mountain. Proceeds from the event benefit patient care and the Spirit of Survival program at Shaw Cancer Center, providing all patients the opportunity to receive free exercise training, nutrition coaching, emotional support, massages, acupuncture, outdoor adventures and much more.

These unique services can dramatically impact a patient's quality of life but are not typically covered by insurance.

In 2017, Pink Vail proceeds funded:

2,715 fitness sessions

267 wellness and exercise classes

1,297 counseling sessions

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734 massage, reiki and acupuncture sessions

429 nutrition consultations

Hundreds of group hikes, ski days, hut trips, cooking demos, art classes and educational lectures

Funds also supported 50 patients through the cancer center's Slim for Survival program. New programs were added, including "Broga" (men's yoga); pottery classes at Colorado Mountain College; and "Skimotherapy," a fun day of skiing and camaraderie.

In the past six months, 100 percent of patients in active treatment used an average of almost three of the services offered.

The goal for Pink Vail this year is to raise $800,000 to ensure a full year of complimentary programming remains available for all cancer patients at Shaw.

Whole Healing

Two decades ago, Eagle County singer-songwriter Pat Hamilton lost a friend to breast cancer. Hamilton wrote a song about it, called "Waves of Sorrow," focusing on the support group of women that surrounded, supported and took care of their friend in need.

Twenty years later, Hamilton was diagnosed with breast cancer herself. She had a lumpectomy, followed by radiation five days a week for a month. Hamilton says the treatment and recovery process at Shaw Cancer Center felt like being "wrapped up in a blanket of care." The care she had once helped provide for a friend was now what she needed and was able to receive at Shaw.

Through the Spirit of Survival program, funded by Pink Vail, Hamilton and others have received comprehensive wellness that addresses each patient's individual physical and emotional well-being, the impact of cancer on day-to-day life, as well as long-term health goals. The program incorporates fitness, nutrition and physical therapy, as well as a variety of support and wellness services, to empower survivors to thrive during and after treatment.

Hamilton says her breast cancer diagnosis made her feel like a "deer caught in the headlights," and that Spirit of Survival gave her the care and compassion she needed to get through it.

Each patient at Shaw meets with a team of doctors and staff members to develop an individualized program. The focus for Hamilton was on exercise and diet — both vital components in the prevention of her cancer's re-occurrence. She worked with Shaw's oncology exercise physiologists and nutritionist and was able to take advantage of gentle yoga, reiki, massage and Pilates offered at Jack's Place, a cancer caring house located on-site at Shaw.

"It's just an incredibly all-around supportive program for your emotional, physical and mental well-being," Hamilton said. "I don't think most people know what Pink Vail does and how it covers the cost of all these programs. Until you get cancer, or one or your friends gets cancer, you don't realize what an incredible event Pink Vail truly is."

'Friends who care about you'

In 2015, Karen Gregory was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. After receiving treatments in Denver, she and her husband moved to Eagle County full-time, and she started using Shaw for her follow-up care.

"That's when I realized there was this huge survival program at Shaw," she said.

Gregory started working with Shaw's nutritionist, as the radiation treatment to her head had been harsh on her mouth. She also started working with the exercise physiologists in the Shaw fitness center.

"It's incredible the difference that the survivorship program has made in my life," she said. "I'm healthier, stronger, leaner. Honestly, when I first walked into the Fit for Survival gym, I felt like a cancer patient. And when I walk in now, after all the support that I've had and continue to get, I feel like a success waiting to happen."

She says the staff at Shaw is committed to every patient's survival, and that working with the team has been an "incredible experience."

"Everybody becomes your friend, so they are not just your therapist or trainer or counselor — they are friends who care about you and they want the best survival possible for you," Gregory said. "And they want to do everything they can to help you not get that cancer back."

Gregory participated in Slim for Survival, an eight-week program that helps individuals lower their body mass index and raise their muscle mass, all in support of their continued success in beating cancer. The program includes one-on-one counseling, guided nutrition, physical training and mindfulness work. She also took advantage of "Skimotherapy," a group ski day — one of the many off-campus programs Spirit of Survival offers Shaw patients in recovery.

"We have some of the highest survival statistics in the entire nation," she said of Eagle County. "I think it has a lot to do with lifestyle, and because of Spirit of Survival, we have resources to really support us and get outside and exercising, and I think that definitely adds to the survival rate."

For Gregory and so many others, Pink Vail is a reflection of the generous support offered by the community and its family and friends around the world.

"It just makes me feel so cared for and supported," she said, "and also makes me feel like I have a responsibility to give back, and to be the healthiest I can be. It brings tears to my eyes to think of the support that's all around us here."

IF YOU GO …

What: Pink Vail, the world’s biggest ski day to conquer cancer.

Where: Headquarters is at Golden Peak, Vail.

When: Saturday, March 24.

Cost: Sign up with a team or join one.

More information: The all-day event includes a costume contest, live music, kids zone, deck parties and more. Proceeds benefit patient car and the Spirit of Survival program at Shaw Cancer Center. Register or donate at http://www.pinkvail.com.