“If you want to know how to live, ask a cancer survivor,” says Bridget Steel, a 45-year-old mother of two who is undergoing colorectal cancer treatment at the Calaway·Young Cancer Center at Valley View. Her friend, Ruth Barber, couldn’t agree more. Both women are part of the Cancer Coffee Walk and Talk group, a cancer support group offered by the center and funded by the Valley View Foundation’s Rally Campaign. On Monday, June 25, Bridget, Ruth, and fellow cancer survivors Andrea Thompson, Brenda Grumley, and Debbie Williams celebrated their survivorship, and Barber’s 81st birthday, by skydiving over the eastern Utah desert.
The Cancer Coffee Walk and Talk group began over 12 years ago when Nancy Reinisch, LCSW, a two-time cancer survivor, psychotherapist and triathlete coach, was looking for a support group in the Roaring Fork Valley after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Unable to find one, she decided to start her own with the help of Valley View’s integrated therapies. Currently, Nurse Navigator Sara Houston, RN serves as her co-facilitator. Today, the group hosts informal weekly meetings, bringing together those who have survived a cancer diagnosis and those still in treatment. The group walks for 40 minutes, then returns to the cancer center to converse over coffee. “I wanted to create something that provided both physical and mental health benefits,” says Reinisch. The group regularly sees 15 to 18 people, but has had as many as 24 attendees in the past.
The idea for skydiving came about almost two years ago when Steel and Barber first met each other. The original plan was to go for Barber’s 80th birthday in 2017, but Steel ended up with a cancer reoccurrence and had to back out. She was devastated. Barber couldn’t imagine doing the skydive without her friend and the trip was rescheduled for Barber’s 81st birthday. In all, over twenty Coffee Cancer Walk and Talk members made the trip to Moab for a weekend of comraderie outside of the hospital. While only six made the jump, all of the participants were treated to a sunset river cruise and dinner.
Barber is a four-year colon cancer survivor and credits the group with helping her remain positive through her diagnosis and treatment. “I just can’t say enough good things about this group,” she says. Now, she’s passing her wisdom along to other members of the group, providing both insight and hope. “We’re all busy out celebrating life these days,” she quips.
Andrea Thompson, 53, a fellow jumper and ovarian cancer survivor, says she never would have considered jumping out of an airplane, but after seeing Barber at 81-years-young enthusiastically embracing the idea, she got on board. “If I can do this, anyone can,” she says.
Debbie Williams, 66, has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for 40 years and is a survivor of stage II triple negative breast cancer. “Once the chute was deployed it was much better!” she says of skydiving. “It was a wonderful experience.”
Members of the walk and talk group all expressed gratitude for the group for bringing them together, otherwise they may have never met each other. “We’re not a cancer group, we’re a family,” says Ricahrd Pierce, 73, one of the handful of men in the group and a breast cancer survivor himself.
“If we can all go through the things we’ve been through, we can do anything really,” says Steel. “It felt good to get away from cancer and enjoy life.”
The Cancer Coffee Walk and Talk group meets every Thursday at 10 a.m. in the Calaway•Young Cancer Center at Valley View Hospital.