Shaw Cancer Center patients grateful for 10 years of life changing Pink Vail fundraising
Shaw Cancer Center’s ability to provide invaluable services to patients is possible because of annual fundraiser
Dani Abramowitz refuses to let her breast cancer diagnosis prohibit her from enjoying everything she’s come to love about life in the Vail Valley since she came here in 2006. If you see her outside, skiing every weekend with her husband and 8-year-old son, or rafting and hiking in the summertime, you wouldn’t have a clue that she has Stage IV breast cancer.
Bill Schane’s mesothelioma can’t be cured, but he tries to stay active whenever he can: like spin workouts and getting up on the mountain to ski with Skimotherapy, a program he started in 2017 to get other cancer patients on skis. When he was first diagnosed, he called his surgeon and said, “I’m going to treat this like an athletic injury. When I train on my spin bike, I’m training for the next chemo treatment.”
Abramowitz and Schane, both Eagle County locals, are patients at the Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards. The treatment facility enables locals and those from elsewhere to receive comprehensive care designed to treat all symptoms of their disease, whether they be medical, psychological, spiritual, mental or otherwise. All services, which extend for life through the Spirit of Survival program, are completely free to patients and their families.
Shaw’s ability to provide invaluable services to patients is possible because of Pink Vail, one of the Vail Valley’s most recognizable fundraisers. This year’s COVID-modified event, from March 26-28, invites local and out-of-town participants to ski their local mountains or do another outdoor activity to honor cancer’s impact on their life.
Since the inaugural Pink Vail ski day for cancer in 2012, participants have raised more than $5 million. Pink Vail has also grown into the largest ski day for cancer in the world. The money raised has provided services like counseling for patients and their families, access to working with a nutritionist, private and group personal training to restore strength after treatment, massages to help with aching muscles after treatment and more.
Both Abramowitz and Schane credit Shaw Cancer Center’s dedication to more than medical healing as a big reason they’ve been able to manage their diagnoses and thrive with them.
Abramowitz and her husband Matt are both educators in Eagle County schools, and when the family learned she had breast cancer, they started looking at treatment facilities in the Front Range, and at Shaw Cancer Center. The difference at Shaw was that she wasn’t just a number, or a patient or a diagnosis. She was Dani Abramowitz.
“As soon as I got there, I felt like that was my place,” she said. “I felt like they all were fighting with me. They work with my mind, they work with my body.”
Getting massages, practicing meditation, receiving Reiki energy healing and working out solo and with a trainer in the gym has all contributed to her well-being and ability to stay positive. Since receiving both doses of her COVID-19 vaccination, Abramowitz has been able to return to the classroom and teach her students. Her work is another thing that has helped her stay positive.
But one of the most important things she cited was working with Erin Perejda, LCSW. (Schane echoes her praise). Perejda and colleague Kristin Grems, LPC provide counseling services to patients and their families, helping them process and find meaning in their situation.
“My primary role always has been and always will be for our patients; to provide the emotional and psychological support of coping with a cancer diagnosis,” Perejda said.
That extends to their ability to parent, learn at school, stay productive at work, work together in a marriage, remain cohesive as a family unit and cope with the anxiety and/or depression that can come with such a stressful life event.
“It is actually quite a bit more of a mental game than it can be physical at times,” she said, reflecting on what she’s learned in five years at Shaw.
That’s why Spirit of Survival allows patients at Shaw to continue using its services after their treatment; it’s for-life. Perejda sees its importance in her work, when sometimes patients are okay while receiving treatment, but months after, the gravity of their situation hits all of a sudden and they need help.
While individual healing has helped many patients, connecting with others is also a vital component of Spirit of Survival. Schane said bonding and empathizing with others over shared and similar experiences have been a profound aspect of his own experience with cancer.
In the early years of his diagnosis, Schane trained on a spin bike at the Minturn Fitness Center. Maintaining an active lifestyle was one of the reasons he and his family chose Shaw as their primary treatment team.
So, he’d roll his oxygen machine into the gym, step into the bike and ride. Once, a guy sat on the bike next to him and Schane said, “I hope I don’t make you uncomfortable but, you know, I’m not gonna die. I’m gonna just do my thing over here.”
Just a short time later, he saw the guy at Skimotherapy. He knew he recognized him from somewhere. Turns out, the guy had been diagnosed with leukemia the previous day. The two stayed connected after that.
Though Schane’s cancer has significantly impacted his body, his mind keeps returning to spirit. In December 2020, Schane received his third major surgery in Houston that required a 20-day recovery in the ICU. It was a lengthy process, but he says it was worth it. He was able to return to the Vail Valley in February and, along with his family, is ready to celebrate his seventh Pink Vail this weekend.
For more information about Pink Vail or to sign up to participate in this year’s event, visit pinkvail.com.
The 10th and final Pink Vail fundraiser takes place March 26-28 and instead of taking place on Vail Mountain, participants are encouraged to participate wherever, and however, they like. Visit pinkvail.com to sign up, join a team or donate.