Living—and skiing—with cancer
Rainbow Gold campers learn to ski
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Talking with Joseph Eck and Jesse Fletcher—both
recovering from battles with cancer—while riding up Bald Mountain’s
ski lifts is a humbling experience.
"A lot of people say they’re glad they had
cancer," Jesse, 14, says.
Kids from Camp Rainbow Gold, a summer
camp for children with cancer, gathered in Sun Valley on Saturday to give
skiing a try. From left to right, posing on top of Baldy, are Guy Straker,
Joseph Eck, Jesse Fletcher, Allison Straker and instructors Pete Watson
and Pat Kelly. Express photo by Willy Cook
"It gives you a strong feeling about yourself. You
beat something so big," Joseph, 9, joins in.
For 17 Idaho children who either have or had cancer,
Saturday was a special day.
It was a winter reunion for campers from Camp Rainbow
Gold, an American Cancer Society summer camp for children ages 6 through
16 who are recovering from or have cancer. Sun Valley Co., the Sun Valley
Adaptive Sports Center and Bob Dog Pizza teamed up Saturday to take the
campers skiing on Bald Mountain.
"It’s a matter of them wanting to do it," says
Marc Mast, Sun Valley Adaptive Sports Center president. "With
athletics, and skiing in particular, the motto of the Sun Valley Adaptive
Sports Center is: ‘If I can do this, I can do anything.’ "
The campers added an exclamation mark to Mast’s comment
The children, with varying forms and degrees of cancer,
took to Baldy’s slopes enthusiastically with instruction donated from
the Adaptive Sports Center and Sun Valley Co. Some, who’ve had hip or
knee replacements, learned to ski in skiing chairs for the disabled. Most
were "stand-up" skiers.
"To face such adversity and to do so well is a great
inspiration for all of us," said Cliff Coons, vice president of Sun
Valley Adaptive Sports and owner of Bob Dog Pizza.
Camp Rainbow Gold, a one-week annual event, has been
bringing children with cancer together since 1982. The camp is held at the
end of July or the beginning of August at Cathedral Pines in the Sawtooth
National Recreation Area in the shadows of the Boulder and Smoky
"These special children meet other children
undergoing similar experiences who can share a bonding not found at other
camps," reads a camp brochure.
"The first year I went to camp, it really changed
me," says Jesse, who lives in Boise. "Everybody really knows how
you feel. It’s my favorite place to be in the world.
"It’s a place where wheel chairs and fake limbs and
bald heads are accepted."
Jesse and Joseph agree that Camp Rainbow Gold has given
them and the friends they’ve met there a more positive outlook on life.
"It showed me that you shouldn’t say that you have
it bad, because some people have it a lot awfuller," Joseph, 9, who
also lives in Boise, says.
Jesse says it’s sometimes hard to acknowledge the
serious nature of the disease she and Joseph have beaten, but camp has
"Every year, someone will pass away—you make new
friends and have to wonder if they’ll be there next year," she
Also, common public perceptions of people with
life-threatening diseases is sometimes difficult to deal with, Jesse says.
"When people find out I’ve had cancer, they treat
me like I’m a porcelain glass. I don’t want to be treated differently,
but I want to talk about it."
After getting off the lift at Baldy’s summit, the two
skied upper and lower College, weaving among skiers and snowboarders.
Societal traps and concerns were far below them. It’s a rare freedom
that some say can only be found while skiing.
"When you come here and see people smiling, you’re
amazed that they’re still smiling," Joseph says.
Hailey residents Kris Nardecchia and Rob Cronin are Camp
Rainbow Gold board members. They were there Saturday to cheer the campers
Such events help the children forget about "the
rigors of life," Nardecchia says.
It was great to see the kids "throw caution to the
wind," adds Cronin, who also recently won a bout with cancer.
Although cancer occurs rarely at young ages, the American
Cancer Society estimates that 12,400 children and young adults up to 20
years old were diagnosed with cancer in 2000.
Despite steady advances in treatment, the society
estimates that 2,300 children died of cancer in 2000.
The society estimates that 57 percent of those diagnosed
with cancer survive.