At top of Utah ski resort, cancer survivors share triumph, grief
Snowbird • Maybe it's just a coincidence that the hike is called Survivors at the Summit and is a fundraising event for the Cancer Wellness House.
Maybe it is fortuitous that Byron Saylor is a hiker and that he's made the long, steep walk up Snowbird's Peruvian Gulch every year since 2002.
Well, every year but one.
That was 2009 and Saylor didn't make it that year because he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and had an operation to try to get rid of it. Still, he said, his doctors told him there was only a 13 percent chance of survival.
Yet, on Saturday the 79-year-old Saylor was at the top of the ski resort's Peruvian lift after a hike of several hours. He credits his survival to two things.
"I survived because I hiked up here all these years," he said, adding he believes that gave him a measure of strength and immunity.
The other reason was a great surgeon who removed the cancer to such an extent that he didn't need follow-up chemotherapy.
The Cancer Wellness House near Salt Lake Regional Medical Center supports people battling cancer and supports their families. Its free programs include emotional and spiritual support, teaching of techniques for mind and body wellness and helping members with social and community engagement.
On Saturday, next to the top of the Peruvian lift, nearly 1,000 small, yellow flags fluttered in the wind with messages from attendees written for those battling the diseases and for those who didn't survive.
"Remembering my grandma," said one. Another: "Knock it down Amie." And one simply said, "Cancer Sucks."
Speakers shared heart-breaking stories of loss and read the names of those connected to the program who had died in the past year.
Tiffany Berg told the story of the death five years ago of her husband Paul, who left behind the couple's five children.
That loss left her living closely, too closely, with death, she said.
It wasn't until a friend suggested that she parachute from an airplane, which she did paired with a veteran parachutist and in spite of her fear of heights.
"All of a sudden I felt trust," said Berg, a former Mrs. Utah.
Berg went on to become a hospice chaplain and write a book mostly aimed at children titled "If Cancer Were a Fish, I'd Throw it Back." She has since remarried.
How to help
For more information on Cancer Wellness House or to make a donation to this nonprofit, go to http://www.cancer-wellness.org/.