A weekend of appreciation
Participants in Big Sky Kids Oncology Program at Eagle Mount enjoy community and adventure
On a bluebird day at Big Sky Resort the Easton family was able to forget about a word that had become an integral part of their lives for several years – cancer.
This year’s Eagle Mount Big Sky Kids Oncology Camps Spring Fling allowed for nearly 70 kids and family members to enjoy an annual reunion ski weekend which included downhill skiing and snowboarding at Big Sky Resort as well as snowshoeing and alpine skiing at Lone Mountain Ranch.
The only cost to families for the weekend was transportation to and from Bozeman.
“It’s so easy to go by these days without connecting with people. I think our biggest thing is community. That word keeps popping in my head because none of what we do would be possible without the community and that comes in various shapes and sizes: a monetary contribution; a business donating cookies; a ski volunteer, etc.,” explained Kara Erickson, director of Big Sky Kids Oncology Program at Eagle Mount. “No matter what we ask, it just feels like everyone has something to give. It makes me choke up, actually. It’s so much a part of our community.”
She said it’s important for Big Sky Kids to have that support.
“They get a stranger to look at them and say, ‘You matter to me and I’m going to do whatever I can do to show up for you. It’s just amazing. It kind of speaks for itself,” said Erickson.
Katelynn Thomas was still in cancer maintenance therapy when she first visited Big Sky at 11 years old with Big Sky Kids Oncology Camp Big Sky Adventure. Parents and children get to go whitewater rafting, horseback riding, visit Yellowstone National Park and also go fishing. All expenses are paid, including travel.
“Still puffy cheeks and steroids, and my hair was just growing back in. It was awesome to come here but as I got older, I just didn’t want anything to do with it. I just didn’t want to talk about it. Didn’t want to acknowledge it. I just wanted to be normal – no special treatment,” she explained.
Thomas returned in August 2017 for the Young Adult Retreat. She’d never slept in a tent before. “The first two days I was iffy about everything,” she said, but by day three, she embraced the wilderness and connection with her peers.
“Something clicked in me where I could acknowledge that it was okay and there was way more to life than I thought: camping, hiking, mountains – little things that people would take for granted that they shouldn’t,” she said.
Now Thomas returns, participates and helps whenever she gets the chance. She even rode the Greyhound bus from the Midwest with her sisters just to visit Big Sky for the weekend as part of the Big Sky Kids Spring Fling.
She’s now 23 and attending a medical assistant program, determined to help people. Her experiences with the Young Adult Retreat and Spring Fling changed her.
“It taught me to stop taking advantage of things and really enjoy the little things I do have. It was very eye-opening for me – the first time coming here as an adult,” she said.
Erickson said these kids have all had to grow up way too fast, but they look for the silver lining in all things and usually find it. Being around them is life-altering. They make you appreciate things in a different way, she said. Working with them is a gift: volunteering with people more deserving than anyone and connecting with the community in a special way.
“The family that is created – these families are able to take these horrible things and create this network and this foundation that are never experienced in any other camp,” said Erickson.
Many of the children involved with the Spring Fling are in remission now but are still dealing with the mental and physical ramifications of treatment.
Sebastien Easton was happy to adventure on the mountain on skis with his family. His mother Mandy explained that his 17-year old sister Olivia had a volleyball tournament and had to miss the reunion.
“There were tears shed,” Mandy said.
Despite missing his sister, 10-year-old Sebastien – who is now in remission – said the entire experience was “just awesome.”
Erickson said they are tremendously grateful to all organizations and people involved, but particularly Big Sky Resort.
“I don’t think this is super typical for big resorts to do this. The lift tickets are donated; the rentals are donated; the food is donated; this set-up,” she said. “Tons of people have touched this event and made it possible. There are so many moving parts and every single member of their staff is on-board. That’s a beautiful thing for the kids and parents to see.”
It’s a lot of work for everyone, including her. But there’s a reward for all the work – Erickson gets to see her Eagle Mount family.
“It’s amazing to see what this can do: it’s love – and love multiplies,” she said.