COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A new nonprofit in Colorado Springs is using Colorado's unique beauty to help women with breast cancer year-round.
Molly Sleigh founded the organization Surviving And Thriving. Sleigh is an occupational therapist who saw a lack of support for breast cancer survivors in El Paso County.
“My past experiences working with breast cancer patients in the outpatient rehab setting and after moving here, I started to notice that there was a real gap in survivorship care for breast cancer here. So I decided to do something about bridging that gap and that's how Surviving and Thriving got its idea,” Sleigh said.
According to Sleigh, two out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
She said it is important to provide resources, services, and support to survivors and women recently diagnosed, beyond the month of October. Sleigh said more people make donations during October because it is on people’s minds. She wants people to have support throughout the whole year.
“October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is a time of the year where we devote an entire month to promoting breast cancer awareness and the importance of early detection because we know that early detection can definitely save lives,” Sleigh said.
She said a cancer diagnosis doesn't just affect one person within the family unit, it affects all members.
“We really try to promote survivorship as well. Survivorship is navigating life challenges and experiences that come along with the breast cancer diagnosis and that it's very important. At surviving and thriving, we try to help women and their families along with that navigation process,” Sleigh said.
Surviving and Thriving wants to get survivors up and moving.
“We try to include programs that meet the needs of the entire family and promote activities that help reduce risk and risk of recurrence,” Sleigh said.
Multiple times a month, women living with breast cancer and survivors of breast cancer will meet on trails in places like Palmer Park and Garden of the Gods, to get outside, breathe in the fresh air, and support one another.
“There are many benefits to exercise. In addition to the physical benefits, it helps to reduce anxiety and depression and those are all things that can come along with the breast cancer diagnosis as well,” Sleigh said.
They also have a yoga program, a peer mentorship program, and sometimes have guest educational speakers.
Sleigh said it is also really important to promote social and emotional support.
“It helps to empower women when they connect with others sharing a similar journey to provide support and encouragement. I think it's really important to recognize that women are now living with and beyond cancer because treatments have evolved over the years,” Sleigh said.
Carol March is a three-year breast cancer survivor. March will take her dog on hikes with Surviving and Thriving.
“I actually have gone to some areas I have not gone to in years, like Garden of the Gods,” March said.
March enjoys getting to know other women who have gone through similar experiences.
“This makes it so we can be outside, we can bring the dog with us and we can be in a position where we can say hey we have all been through this, we have all survived it,” March said.
March walks alongside many other women with Breast cancer. Sleigh said anywhere from 20 to 38 to 70 and even over 200 people have shown up for one of their hikes.
Dressed in pink, coffee in hand, and shoes laced up, many women warriors wake up early on some mornings to show support for our cause that is close to many of their hearts.
“This is breast cancer awareness and we're all survivors,” March said.
Surviving and Thriving works to encourage, empower, and inspire women with breast cancer. Sleigh said what better way to do it than outside on a trail?
“This is like both of my passions, representing as a breast cancer survivor and hiking,” Sam Dearmond said.
Like March, Sam Dearmond also participates in the Surviving and Thriving hikes.
“I am, you know, breast cancer, A two-time breast cancer survivor. So it's part of me, it's like it's literally my DNA now,” Dearmond said.
Exercise has always been a priority in Dearmond's life, but chemo made it difficult for her to keep moving.
“All I could do on some days during my chemo was just to walk to the park, down the road and sit at the park, and then walk back,” Dearmond said.
She underwent a double mastectomy and multiple rounds of chemo and radiation treatments.
“By treatment four, I couldn't even walk to the restroom in our apartment, it was horrible,” Dearmond said. “But once you get through and push through that difficult thing, then everything gets easier.”
Dearmond said many people reached out and supported her when she was going through treatment.
“I have a really good support system. All my friends. I was getting gifts in the mail like every day from family, friends, people everywhere. Even messages on Facebook. So now I try to do that for other people going through the same journey. I try to reach out, send little notes, texts, cards, whatever I can do to kind of uplift their spirits and carry them through it,” Dearmond said.
Dearmond loves hiking with other survivors.
“I love the whole power that you feel. You're taking that power back that was taken from you before, when you didn't have the strength,” Dearmond said.
Both Dearmond and March said they like having a supportive group where they can get outdoors and be active.
“Having that community again, that's so important to me. It's huge,” Dearmond said.
“It's great to have a community and support group. I know when I was going through treatment that was when I got it figured out who were the people I could really rely on. We all end up with a small group of people you know are going to be there ,” March said.
Sleigh encourages anyone impacted by breast cancer to reach out to Surviving And Thriving.
The group has hikes open to families and friends and then another one specific to survivors. If you attend a hike, you will probably see Dearmond dressed in pink.
“I have a lot of pink, I never liked pink before all this started but now I have a lot of pink,” Dearmond said.
March and Dearmond said they will be back on whatever trail is next for the Surviving and Thriving hike.