Cancer survivor Daniel Elsbury building support for Pink Vail Jayhawks team
If you go …
What: Pink Vail.
When: Saturday, April 2; check-in opens at 8:30 a.m.
Where: Pink Vail Headquarters is located at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola at Eagle’s Nest, out of Lionshead Village. Cost: $25 to register; suggested fundraising goal of $250 per person. More information: To register, donate or volunteer for Pink Vail visit www.pinkvail.com.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about cancer survivors leading up to Pink Vail, the world’s biggest ski day to conquer cancer, on Saturday, April 2.
VAIL —On Oct. 4, 2014, Daniel Elsbury was in his car, driving home from a round of disc golf with his buddies, when he felt an odd pain.
Raised in Kansas, Elsbury had recently moved to Eagle County with old friends, ready to start “a new chapter” in life. He lived with that odd pain for months while applying for insurance. Finally in January, when his plan year began, he made an appointment with a general practitioner who prescribed a colonoscopy, a somewhat abnormal procedure for an otherwise healthy 31-year-old.
On Feb. 4, his doctor shared the results of his test — late Stage 2-early Stage 3 colorectal cancer.
“I never thought my life would change so much in one moment,” Elsbury said. “No 31-year-old wants to get news like that.”
Network of friends
Despite having lived in the high country for only a few months before his diagnosis, Elsbury’s warm personality and contagious smile had earned him a network of friends, co-workers and close acquaintances, who immediately rallied to provide support.
“I never thought I could develop the relationships I have and be as comfortable as I am in the valley as I was growing up in Kansas,” he said.
Elsbury works at the Altitude Club in Vail, and his supervisors and co-workers encouraged him to work when he could, picking up his shifts when he wasn’t up for it. They’ve held fundraisers to help him pay his medical bills, rent and living expenses. Their kindness has not gone unnoticed. At the end of each shift, Elsbury walks around the bar and hugs all his supporters.
Elsbury went through 5 ½ weeks of radiation and chemotherapy at Shaw Regional Cancer Center in Edwards. Eight weeks later, he had surgery in Denver. While his oncology team was able to successfully remove the cancerous tumor, he spent the following two months in-and-out of the hospital with a variety of infections that caused pain, frustration and fear.
When he finally returned to Vail, Elsbury dove into his recovery, taking advantage of Shaw’s Spirit of Survival program, which includes customized fitness training, nutrition counseling, emotional support and more. Funded by Pink Vail, the program is provided at no cost to all Shaw patients.
“The Spirit of Survival program is phenomenal,” he said. “I take advantage of it every day, as much as I can. I love coming to Shaw and being able to relate to people who get what I’m going through.”
Elsbury works out once a day in Shaw’s fitness studio with two exercise physiologists who specialize in cancer-care fitness. They have developed a customized exercise program that meets Elsbury’s individual needs and goals.
“Everyone at Shaw has been extremely supportive,” he said. “I don’t think I would have been able get through this hardest year of my life if it wasn’t for everyone at Shaw. And that’s what’s allowed this to feel like a second home to me. I walk around Shaw and talk to the nurses like they’re my mom. It’s nice to have everyone look out for me.”
Shaw Cancer Center treats about 200 cancer patients every year, primarily locals coming from Colorado mountain towns, along with second-home owners. Elsbury attributes his comfort with Shaw to its intimate size.
“Being in a bigger city, in a hospital with thousands of other people, you don’t get that one-on-one, that personal relationship you do here,” he said.
Elsbury makes his rounds every time he visits the cancer center, shaking hands, giving high-fives and hugging his doctors, nurses and care team. He said it’s the least he can do.
“They’ve made this last year of my life much more manageable,” he said.
Rock chalk pink hawk
On Saturday, April 2, Elsbury might be the only one wearing blue under his Pink Vail costume. A graduate of the University of Kansas, Elsbury is a huge Jayhawks fan. He has even named his team Rock Chalk Pink Hawk in reference to his alma mater’s famous chant and to encourage fellow Jayhawks to join or support his ski day.
This will be Elsbury’s second year participating in Pink Vail. Last year, he went only six weeks after his initial diagnosis. He was going through treatment at the time.
“Even being able to get to the top of the mountain was a feat itself,” he said.
This year, it’s even more important to him to be a part of the event.
“You go up there and you see the friends and family of thousands of survivors, and it hits home that you’re not alone in this fight,” he said.
Elsbury’s goal is to recruit close to 100 people to join his team and he wants to personally raise $5,000 to $6,000 for the programs that helped make such a big difference in his life.
“It’s crazy to think I’m already a year into this whole process,” he said. “I remember the first day I came into the fitness room at Shaw, in shock. And now, here I am seeing new people come in to work out and I’m the one giving them advice on how to get through everything. I never thought I’d be on the other end of things, helping others get through their fight. But that’s why we’re all here and why I enjoy this place so much.”
Elsbury refers to this last year of his life as a journey.
“What I’m looking forward to most about Pink Vail is to see everyone come out and support one another,” he said. “When you ride the gondola to the top and you see all the pink, you hear the music, you see all those people — it really does hit home. Pink Vail is the best way for someone to show his or her support of people going through the worst disease in the world.”