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Pink Vail funding helps cancer patients tackle tough times

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Participants of the Spirit of Survival hut trip enjoyed a wildflower hike, healthy meals prepared by local restaurants, group sharing and support, sunrise yoga and time for reflection by the campfire. Funded by Pink Vail, the hut trip is an opportunity for participants to rejuvenate their mind, body and spirit.
Special to the Daily |

EDWARDS — Many people would fervently disagree with Dana Clark when she said, “I don’t look at having cancer as a bad thing.” But others who have participated in Shaw Regional Cancer Center’s survivorship programs — from gentle yoga in a studio at Jack’s Place to hut trips up Shrine Pass — understand where she’s coming from.

Clark, from Craig, Colorado, was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. Following her radiation treatments at Shaw Regional Cancer Center, where she was able to stay at Jack’s Place, she signed up for Pink Vail. Anticipating its fourth year this March, Pink Vail has become known as the world’s biggest ski day to conquer cancer. Proceeds from the annual fundraiser directly benefit patient care and survivorship programs at Shaw.

“I wanted to give back to all the people who helped me get well,” said Clark, who participated again in 2014 and, along with a record 1,625 participants, helped raise nearly a half million dollars.



Since Pink Vail last spring, Clark and other cancer survivors have participated in outdoor adventure camps and hut trips; yoga, Pilates and fitness classes; and one-on-one counseling, support groups and monthly survivorship gatherings. Thanks to Pink Vail, these experiences and services are available to all Shaw patients and survivors through Spirit of Survival, a comprehensive wellness program that addresses the physical and emotional effects of cancer and empowers survivors to thrive during and after treatment.



AN EPIC EXPERIENCE

This summer, Pink Vail proceeds paid for 12 cancer “thrivers” (the word of choice rather than “survivors”) to participate in a weekend kayaking trip on the upper Colorado River through Epic Experience, an outdoor adventure camp for individuals diagnosed with cancer. Participants ranged in age from early 40s to 70s.

“It was amazing,” said Margaret Brammer, clinical social worker and survivorship coordinator at Shaw. “They all went through the rapids like champs. During a quiet, contemplative moment on the river, one woman yelled out, ‘This is the best day of my life!’ Then someone followed that by shouting ‘…yet! The best day of your life yet!’”



Judy Wallace, from Breckenridge, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and underwent radiation and chemotherapy at Shaw throughout the summer. Commuting back and forth for her treatments took a toll since, as she explained, “the summers up here are only about five minutes long.”

Being able to participate in the kayaking trip rejuvenated her spirit.

“Being around the other gals who went through treatment was almost spiritual…with every passing hour, I just felt lighter. We all bonded instantly,” she said.

THE SPIRIT OF SURVIVAL

Brenda Lee, an Eagle-Vail resident, was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and immediately underwent surgery. Within one month of finishing her radiation treatments, she began doing Shaw’s Fit For Survival and restorative Pilates programs, as well as participating in group snowshoe outings in the winter and hikes in the summer. After a hut trip in August, she wrote a thank you letter to Shaw staff, explaining how moved she was by the trip and how she has “replayed it in my mind over and over.”

“Cancer is a scary diagnosis, but from the day I first sought medical attention to the end of my treatment, I had such support and care that my fears were minimized,” Lee wrote.

Everyone has been or will be touched by cancer at some point in their lives. Scheduled for March 21, 2015, the goal of Pink Vail is to commemorate a united fight against the disease. Participants and donors are personally motivated by their experiences with cancer, and through their fundraising efforts, patients and survivors are empowered to fight their battles, revive, and in many cases, discover a new and powerful feeling of self-worth.

“We want everyone undergoing treatment to have the opportunity to participate in our survivorship programs in their own way,” Brammer said. “Not everyone needs to make it to the top of mountain to feel fulfilled. For some, taking that first step to the base is a huge success. For others, it’s showing up to a support group for the first time or having an honest conversation with family.”

Before the Spirit of Survival’s latest hut trip, Brammer shared a nugget of wisdom with the group: “In this life, we are all just walking up a mountain. We can sing as we climb or we can complain about our sore feet.

“The goal of Spirit of Survival is to give everyone an opportunity to sing,” Brammer said. “I see these individuals from both ends of the spectrum — during the hardest times when they are diagnosed and going through treatment to hiking to the top of a mountain or paddling down a rough river. Similar to the river ride, cancer can toss you around a little bit. But how great is it when you get to take back some control and charge through that rapid? It’s a real honor for me to work with these folks. They are my reason to sing.”

For more information about Shaw’s Spirit of Survival program, visit shawcancercenter.com/survivorship.


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