Cancer survivors toast to life in Vail Valley |

Cancer survivors toast to life in Vail Valley

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado
Vail Daily/Sarah MausolfDillon resident Barb Armstrong participates in a celebratory toast Sunday during a cancer survivors' event at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center in Edwards.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado- This summer has a special meaning for Joyce Nielsen, of the Vail Valley. It’s been three years since the Edwards resident was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has undergone two surgeries to rid her body of cancer, and the disease remains at bay.

“So far I’m almost three years out from all of that, so I’ll be celebrating big time in August,” she said.

Nielsen got an early start on that celebration Sunday during a lunch at the Shaw Regional Cancer Center in Edwards. Cancer survivors who have received treatment at the center clinked glasses during a celebratory toast. The event was timed with National Cancer Survivors Day.

For Nielsen, 71, battling breast and colon cancer has altered her life in many ways. She has moved to a more plant-based diet, swapping salmon and chicken for more spinach and stir-frys. She also decided to give back to the community by volunteering at the Shaw center. Most of all, the fight against cancer has strengthened Nielsen’s faith in God and appreciation for her family.

“The one thing that has changed is you’re more aware of everything, and the beauty around you, and your friends and family,” she said.

Vail resident Jerry Stevens, 63, also raised his glass during the celebration toast. A recent blood test suggests he has beaten his prostate cancer. He expects another test later this month to confirm the cancer has vanished.

“My oncologist and doctors sort of were reluctant to say ‘you’re cured’ because you never know,” he said. “But when you get a blood test that comes back with no evidence of the cancer you had, that’s good news.”

Stevens lost both of his parents to cancer in recent years. He was diagnosed during a routine physical about two years ago.

“Like anybody who’s had a close call, you certainly appreciate everything you have in your life, especially your family,” he said.

Craig resident Johanna Chadwick, 60, said her diagnosis came as a shock. Doctors found cancer in both of her breasts in April.

“I never smoked. I don’t have any breast cancer in my family,” she said.

Chadwick’s daughter reassured her that breast cancer treatment has changed dramatically over the years. “I have a daughter who’s a scientist and she said, ‘In your day, cancer was a death sentence. These days everybody gets it and most people get well,'” Chadwick said.

To get well, she turned to a team of doctors at the Shaw center. Doctors told her she had two options for surgery: Remove the lumps in each breast, or remove both breasts. In the end, Chadwick decided the mastectomy would bring her more peace of mind. She didn’t want to risk the cancer coming back.

She underwent surgery on May 4 at the Vail Valley Medical Center, and starts radiation therapy later this month at the Shaw center. Chadwick said having cancer is like a waking nightmare, but she has met some amazing people along the journey.

“It makes me more aware of my mortality, which I don’t like to think about, but I’m trying to stay positive and keep my life as normal as possible,” she said. “I plan to do a lot of fun things, take vacations. I plan to learn, to try, to manage stress better because I think stress has been a big part of my problem.”

While each cancer survivor shared their own story, they all had one thing in common. Battling the disease has made them appreciate the here and now. Instead of looking forward to things, breast cancer survivor Barb Armstrong said she now concentrates on the present.

“I try to enjoy myself every day no matter what I do because, really, any day it could come right back at you,” the 71-year-old Dillon resident said.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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