BOZEMAN — Summit Aviation hosted its seventh annual Cancer Survivor Flight Camp this past week in partnership with Eagle Mount, where four survivors got the chance to get behind the controls of an airplane and take flight.
“It’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen," Philipsburg resident Cody Walden recounted. "Seeing all the scenery from the sky -- I’m just so lucky.”
“Not only are we flying every single day and exploring Montana, but they’re taking the controls and learning how to fly the airplane," Summit Aviation president Ben Walton said. "It’s a very incredible experience.”
Just months after his own family was touched by cancer, Summit Aviation president Ben Walton was inspired to start this camp for young survivors.
“This is kind of an opportunity for them to have a weeklong adventure here in Montana," Walton added. "It’s such a beautiful place, and just learn that anything is possible,” Walton said.
With a mission focused on restoring some of the childhood adventures they may have missed out on while going through treatments, this camp gives young survivors like Cody Walden a chance to not only get behind the controls of an airplane but also retake control of his life.
“December of 1998, about three years old, they just discovered that I had a brain tumor," Walden explained. They did surgery, chemo, and radiation, and I’ve been cancer-free for 22 years.”
To finish the week off, the four pilots-in-training took a cross-state trip to Driggs, Idaho, which was an adventure that reignited one camper’s childhood dream.
“Being a pilot was actually the first thing I can remember wanting to do as a little kid," Spokane resident Jake Harbert smiled.
That dream, however, was put to a standstill in December 2019.
“They said I had a tumor about the size of my fist in my nasopharynx," Harbert explained. "It was nasopharyngeal carcinoma. It ended up being very close to my brain stem, so they couldn’t get in there and remove it, but it actually reacted very well to both chemo and radiation. I had 70 doses over 35 days.”
At the age of 22, Harbert has now gone 11 months with clean scans and is in the process of getting a medical clearance so he can start flight school in the coming months.
“I feel very lucky," Harbert said. "I definitely feel like I have a perspective that a lot of people don’t, so I feel like I have a different outlook than a lot of people, and I feel just unbelievably lucky. There were so many things that just went perfectly right. Life is good. This is what I want to be doing. I want to be out here flying planes, and I’m on the path.”