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Epic Experience Exceeds Expectations

Emily Tamberino

VAIL CO– As kids pack up and head to sleepaway camps for outdoor adventures arts crafts and a little Kumbaya some of Shaw Regional Cancer Center's patients have left their families friends and doctors behind for a week of adult summer camp in the idyllic setting of the 7 W Guest Ranch in Sweetwater CO. There overlooking the Flat Tops Wilderness and Castle Peak Epic Experience hosts six week-long sessions of outdoor experiences for adults of all ages who have been diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.

In the summer campers referred to as “cancer thrivers” enjoy whitewater kayaking horseback riding and hiking. Winter campers snowshoe cross country ski and build snow caves. The goal behind the program is to encourage participants to recognize that cancer is a part of their story but it does not define them.

Shaw Regional Cancer Center in Edwards is a sponsor of Epic Experience with funds raised at Pink Vail directly benefiting enrollment fees for countless participants who pay nothing for the weeklong camp.

“We're proud to support this local camp that nurtures many of our own patients” says Doris Kirchner President and CEO of Vail Valley Medical Center of which Shaw Regional Cancer Center is a department. “Epic Experience is an extension of Shaw's holistic approach to cancer care which goes beyond the impeccable medical treatment we provide and includes fitness nutrition counseling and other survivorship programs.”

This summer six Shaw patients participated in Epic Experience including Carol Scherling a.k.a. “Toto.” All Epic Experience participants are given a nickname at the outset—Carol received hers because of her roots in Kansas where she grew up.

A Breckenridge resident Carol was diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma in December 2014 and finished her final radiation treatment at Shaw in March 2015. “My experience at Shaw was like being welcomed into a family” she explains. “You aren't a number you're known by first name. It's a very tight-knit community that cares about you. I couldn't have had a better place for treatment.”

Margaret Brammer the social worker at the cancer center recommended Epic Experience to Carol. The program partners with cancer centers including Shaw as well as comparable cancer centers in Utah Washington and California. Its founder Nancy Ferro a.k.a. Mama Lou designed the camp to provide “adventure therapy” to those affected by cancer after she and her family went through her son's fight against brain and testicular cancer in 2007. “Once cancer comes into your life” Nancy explains “it's going to be with you forever. Camp helps people find a new normal. Our campers come away from Epic Experience feeling fuller knowing it's going to be okay.”

Campers arrive with little expectation and some trepidation. The specifics of day-to-day activities aren't shared ahead of time. “I'm an introvert” says Carol “so taking the chance and the challenge to come up was tough sharing at campfire time has been tough. But sharing my story and hearing about other people's stories and what they've been through has helped me cope with mine. Epic Experience has totally exceeded my expectations.”

David Parker dubbed T.C. for his love of the Minnesota Twins was also a Shaw patient. A Steamboat local David was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor last year. He didn't want to commute to Denver for his care and upon meeting Shaw's medical oncologist Dr. Patti Hardenbergh he was impressed and convinced that Shaw would be the cancer center of his choice. He stayed at Jack's Place a cancer caring lodge for patients receiving treatment at Shaw and took advantage of the cancer center's complimentary survivorship programming including nutrition counseling fitness classes massage and acupuncture. “Any good experience in this mess is finding Shaw” he said.

David received his last treatment at Shaw on June 8th and headed to Epic Experience on June 21st. An outdoor enthusiast David found healing in the setting and getting back to the activities he loves. “I was given opportunities to do things I wasn't sure I'd have the chance to do again” he explains.

7W is the 2nd oldest operating dude ranch in Colorado. Perched on 215 acres that backs up to White River National Forest all of the buildings have been remodeled while preserving the charm reminiscent of 1916. “It's just beautiful” says Carol. “I was hesitant to come up and almost pulled out. I am so glad I didn't. I would have missed a trip of a lifetime.”

Word of mouth is Epic Experience's most compelling form of marketing and Carol has already thought of a friend to whom she will recommend the program. Knowing that Pink Vail dollars benefit Shaw patients like her she plans to contribute what she can to the 2016 event which is scheduled for April 2nd. “All donations no matter how large or small—even if it's $1—all go to support special programming for Shaw patients like me” she explains. “It means a great deal so thank you!”
After raising children Carol had grown accustomed to taking care of others. She explains “This time it's all about me.” Epic Experience has helped her focus on her personal journey through cancer and beyond.

“Cancer makes you very strong” she says. “I'm doing things I probably wouldn't have done before cancer but this ranch gave me the chance and I feel really good. Epic Experience has given me the hope that I can do these things and that my life isn't over.”

About Epic Experience
Epic Experience offers free week-long outdoor experiences to individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer as well as separate camps for caregivers. Experiences are based upon outdoor adventure activities such as white water kayaking and during the winter months snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Throughout the experience participants are encouraged to recognize the reality that cancer is a part of their story but it no longer defines them. Connections with other individuals who share a similar story create a community that lasts long after their Epic Experience has ended.

About Shaw Regional Cancer Center
Shaw Regional Cancer Center at Vail Valley Medical Center is for anyone seeking comprehensive cancer care in a peaceful and intimate setting. Patients travel to Shaw for its Ivy League doctors top-of-the-line equipment—including Image Guided Radiation Therapy and 3D mammography—and impeccable reputation for breast and prostate cancer treatment. The multidisciplinary approach of its cancer care team benefits each patient's individualized treatment plan supporting the patient and family through treatment all the way to survivorship. Shaw also offers Jack's Place a complimentary 12-room cancer caring lodge that allows patients and their caregiver to receive treatment at Shaw and take respite right next door.