Feet-less But Not Defeated

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"Feet-less but not defeated" is an expression I learned last year from a pediatric double-amputee patient. It was an expression she used to get through her cancer treatment, and it was an expression that everyone embraced who attended the Children's Cancer Hospital rehabilitation ski trip.

For the second year in a row, I've had the privilege of attending the annual ski trip in Park City, Utah. I go to cover the trip from a communications standpoint, but I come back with inspiration and knowledge of what hope means for these patients and families.

The Children's Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center sponsored its first ski trip in 1982 when Norman Jaffe, M.D., was inspired by former patient, Teddy Kennedy, Jr., to take a group of amputees on a skiing adventure. Although the trip was initially for amputees, now it is open to other pediatric patients who have physical disabilities from their cancer treatment.

The week-long trip for patients and family members is funded by the Children's Art Project at M. D. Anderson. Besides learning how to ski through the National Ability Center in Park City, patients go snow shoeing, rock climbing and tubing. They also kick up their heels at a special dance and karaoke night held at the Park City Marriott and take over the hotel's lobby to play games each night. And, of course, no ski trip would be complete without a big snowball fight.

All of the activities encourage patients to overcome their physical challenges and focus on their abilities. When I asked the patients what they liked best about the trip, they all seemed to have the same answer. They loved being around other amputees and sharing their experiences with peers who knew what they were going through.

The first-time trippers and current patients looked to the trip veterans and survivors as a source of hope. Family members were able to see firsthand what their children were capable of doing, despite their challenges. As one patient put it, "It's a confidence booster for everyone."

The ski trip really is a one-of-a-kind experience. Although the list of attendees may change from year to year, the spirit is the same as the patients tackle the slopes (like other challenges they may face) head on.

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