Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy’s Campbell Sullivan launches nonprofit while fighting cancer in time of coronavirus
Local ski racer launches SkiFast Foundation to help other kids with cancer
Special to the Daily
While undergoing stem cell treatment for CIC-DUX4 Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy alumna and Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athlete Campbell Sullivan had three goals: to get healthy, return to ski racing and start a nonprofit — SkiFastFoundation.com — to assist and support pediatric cancer patients (18 and younger) with sarcoma cancers. The 18-year-old’s nonprofit recently received its 501(c)3 status with help from her parents, Gibby and Kevin.
The foundation will award multiple summer scholarships ranging from $500 to $2,000 to support youths as they strive to return to their pre-diagnosis extracurricular passions in either sports, the arts, music or science both during and post-treatment.
An avid ski racer, admitted NASA geek, superhero fan and animal lover, Campbell was first diagnosed in August of 2017 following an intense summer of ski training at Mount Hood, Oregon.
“My world came down on me,” she recalled, but not for long.
Never one for self-pity, Campbell made herself happy doing what she loves most: ski racing and training whenever possible.
“Campbell puts herself out there all the time and not just as a pediatric cancer advocate (she has marched in Washington with her younger siblings), but as a teammate and a friend,” said her mom, Gibby. “She will drag herself up the hill to help the coaches with video, pull courses and cheer on her teammates. There is nothing that will motivate that kid faster than simply being able to contribute to her team.”
During her fight with cancer, Campbell has learned a valuable lesson that can be used with any challenge.
“I learned to embrace a different role, something I never saw coming — being a leader from the sidelines. Being diagnosed with cancer put life in a whole different perspective,” she writes on her blog.
“Luckily, I found something (ski racing) that kept me involved with my friends and committed to my team, coaching. I showed up as often as I could, no matter the circumstances — even if it was the day after a chemo treatment. Most days I dragged myself up the hill and just sat there so I could be with my team. It takes a different type of courage and commitment to still go out and support your friends while not being able to participate yourself.”
Cancer in the time of the coronavirus
Going through the coronavirus as a patient is “surreal,” Campbell said, knowing she is at high risk if she gets it.
“I take comfort in knowing my family is taking proper precautions and we are doing everything possible to keep it away. It is up to everyone else in the community to stay home and keep the immunocompromised safe,” she said. “Every protective measure the public is taking, I probably have to double it. The only places I can go to are my house and the Shaw Cancer Center. Everywhere else is off-limits. The farthest I’ve gone outside is my porch.”
It has also affected her family members. Her father, Kevin, was in Baltimore when COVID-19 broke out. He had to spend an additional two weeks in a hotel then flew to Denver wearing protective gear. He is currently in self-quarantine in Denver for two weeks.
Campbell’s younger siblings have not been able to leave the house for the past three weeks.
“They can’t risk going out and catching something that they will bring home to me. My blood counts are so low — my platelets are at borderline transfusion level and my white blood cell count is nearly non-existent, so I would have no immune system to fight COVID-19 if I got it.”
In March of 2019, Campbell underwent stem cell treatment and spent 24 days in the hospital. That was followed by a month of isolation— social distancing— in a “clean apartment” next to the hospital. She was released from the clean house just in time to participate in graduation ceremonies with her class.
“It is interesting watching the world practice social distancing, individuals being isolated and communities being terrified of disease and yet it’s something cancer patients have to do on a regular basis, all the while feeling like crap. The reality is most people sequestered to their homes and neighborhoods right now feel fine and there is tons of money being directed toward finding a cure for COVID-19 which is not the case with pediatric cancer at all. I hope people remember what this feels like the next time they talk to a kid with cancer,” said Gibby, matter-of-factly.
By the numbers
As for her first goal — getting healthy — Campbell admits the road has been rocky. She is currently on her third round of treatment. Gibby shared the staggering amount of treatments her daughter has had and is still currently receiving. Each treatment lasts between six and seven months.
“If I totaled it up that equals around 25 courses of chemo, a course can last from one day up to a five-hour infusion every day for one week plus around 90 radiation treatments, a stem cell transplant, two major surgeries on her lower leg plus easily 10 other times she’s been put under for a lung nodule resection, port placement or removal,” Gibby said, pausing to stop and thank the Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards. Campbell is currently in her fifth cycle of chemo and finishing up her 54th round of radiation.
When not receiving treatment, working on her website with her father, Kevin, or writing her blog, Campbell campaigns for children’s cancer research. Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children and adolescents in the United States. Yet, according to the National Cancer Institute, all types of childhood cancer combined receive less than 4% of U.S. federal funding for cancer research.
“It’s crazy when you realize as a parent that your child is taking drugs from the 1980s with side effects that are like taking rat poison while adults can take targeted therapies with minimal side effects in trials for adults only,” Gibby said. “For me, one of the easiest things is putting yourself out there to other families and individuals dealing with cancer, the hardest part is if when that child doesn’t make it.”
Onward and upward
While ski racing was never far from Campbell’s mind, she took a gap year upon graduation, in order to train with SSCV, and college has also been on her radar.
“Right now I’m leaning toward Colorado University because of the aerospace program, being close to home and keeping my care based at Children’s Hospital Colorado,” she said. “Going to CU would be perfect for me. I could drive home on the weekends to visit my family and still have my own independence while at school. My team at the CU Medical Anschutz Campus would also be close to help with my treatment plan.”
Campbell has also developed an interest in the medical field.
“Being able to attend a school that has a medical campus in Denver would be ideal. I am interested in the Engineering Plus program at CU, where you can study engineering as an undergraduate and then pursue your passion in the pre-medical field. Nothing is for sure, of course, but I’m excited to explore the possibilities this spring and hopefully be healthy to attend college in the fall.”
For now, Campbell is looking to continue helping others conquer cancer both mentally and physically.
“Instead of limiting me, cancer has motivated me to take on the future, no holding back,” Campbell said. “I can’t wait for the day I can see my friends and coaches and get back on the ski hill.”
For more information about the SkiFast Foundation or to make a donation or apply for a scholarship, visit http://www.SkiFastFoundation.com.