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For the week of April 4 through April 10, 2001

Living—and skiing—with cancer

Rainbow Gold campers learn to ski

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 Saturday.

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 mountains.

"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 helped.

"Every year, someone will pass away—you make new friends and have to wonder if they’ll be there next year," she says.

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 on.

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.


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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.