Kids fighting cancer star in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Kids fighting cancer star in Aspen

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Shining Stars instructor Harry Kissell of Rifle helps Katie Beets of Greeley on her bi-ski during her first run of the races ending a week of lessons at Buttermilk Friday morning March 22, 2002. "It's awesome," says Beets of her week learning to ski in the Shining Star program. Paul Conrad photo.

A group of young people who have faced enormous challenges in their lives came to Aspen last week and skied, boarded and snowmobiled their troubles away.

The Shining Star Foundation, a recently formed nonprofit, brought 25 kids ages 9 to 18 to the area. But these aren’t just any kids: behind their smiles and efforts on the slopes are the battles they have fought or are fighting with cancer.

On Friday morning the kids gathered for the Shining Stars Winter Games, a series of races down Panda Peak at Buttermilk Mountain. During their week in Aspen, many of the kids learned to ski and took snowmobile rides at T-Lazy-7 Ranch.

Although many of the kids did not know each other before they arrived, over the week they bunked together at the Inn at Aspen and grew close. They shared information about medications, side effects of cancer treatment and even where to buy comfortable wigs.

Littleton resident Meaghan Cuns, 13, Commerce City resident Reina Lucero, 12, and Lacy Henderson, 12, of Denver, said they plan to stay in touch after the trip. All were diagnosed with cancer several years ago, and both Cuns and Henderson have lost their right legs to the disease.

Both skied this week, using “outriggers” for balance – poles for each arm with small skis on the end that they can lean on and brake with.

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“The instructors have helped us out a lot. Everything has been pretty great,” Henderson said, while Lucero piped up that the snowmobiling tour was her favorite activity.

A national organization, The Sunshine Kids, used to offer the week-long ski trip to children with cancer, but stopped two years ago because of budgetary constraints. Shining Stars President Kathy Gingery said the foundation is picking up where the Sunshine Kids left off, slowly but surely.

This year only children from around Colorado participated, but organizers say next year the group should reach 40 participants from oncology hospitals across the country. Doctors recommend patients that can handle the week’s physical activities, and who need a respite from hospitals, worrying parents and any emotional troubles.

“They get off the bus and they’re quiet and shy, but by the end of the week, the wigs come off, the legs come off, and they’re so happy to be together,” said Laura Clason, a local who has been helping out with the Sunshine Kids for years. “This is such a wonderful thing. I always get more back than I give.”

Instructors from the National Sports Center for Disabilities in Winter Park donated their time for the week instructing the kids.

“I think a lot of the kids feel like, ‘If I can ski down from the top of this mountain, I can do anything,'” said Shining Stars Foundation chairman Jim Ziegler.

Robbie Reeve, 9, of La Salle, went to the hospital when he was 5 because he was having trouble breathing. Doctors found a football-sized tumor in his chest, said his dad, Rob. The younger Reeve was then diagnosed with leukemia.

“Robbie got chemotherapy in double-doses for four weeks, and his kidneys shut down,” Rob Reeve said. “He lost his hair three times, but it keeps coming back thicker and coarser.”

Robbie took off his black helmet with flame decals and laid down in the snow at the feet of his dad, after announcing he was given the “best sense of humor award” during the week. He has been off chemotherapy treatment for six months.

“We’re pretty proud of him. He has such a positive, optimistic and bright outlook on all of this. A lot of kids can be defeated by cancer, but Robbie visits kids in the hospital to cheer them up,” Rob said.

“I’m just here to have fun,” Robbie said, lounging in the snow on the sunny morning.

Alex Clavette of Cole Creek Canyon, 13, was 6 when he was diagnosed with cancer. It has been in remission for three years. He said over the week he made a lot of new friends.

During Friday’s race, Clavette, who has been skiing since he was 2, whipped around gates, eliciting a large cheer from the crowd at the finishing area.

Twenty rooms at the Inn at Aspen were donated by Prince Bandar, and most of the group’s meals were donated by local businesses, including Boogie’s and Little Annie’s Eating House. The Aspen Skiing Co. donated the lift tickets for the kids.

“We chose Aspen because the town just opens its arms to us, and we’re a completely volunteer organization,” Gingery said. “We had about 200 volunteers participate just this week. Even Aspen High School students made a bar Thursday night out of snow, and we served smoothies and shakes. Next year we hope we can double in size.”