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Childhood cancer survivors take flight, finding freedom, community in the sky

Posted at 12:41 PM, Jul 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-04 14:41:31-04

BELGRADE - A group of young cancer survivors take flight around the greater southwest Montana skies, and reflect on the challenges they overcame and the possibilities at their fingertips.

For eight years, a network of partners — Summit Aviation and Eagle Mount, and businesses throughout the community — donate their goods, services, and resources, to four cancer survivors. These survivors spend a week at Summit Aviation, partnered with pilots, learning how to fly, land, taxi, and take off.

“I just kinda wanted to put that past behind me, but I’ve really discovered beauty and healing with this community so I met other young adults that experienced the highs and the lows of this journey,” Bri Daniels said.

Daniels is a two-time cancer survivor and a junior at Montana State University, describes her first moments of flying as just that — exhilarating.

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“This is a tiny plane, holy cow!” Daniels exclaimed. “This is incredible, you can see everything around you!”

People interested in the program, from around the country, apply to take part in the program, like camp ‘alum’ Graham Tredwell.

“After you go through a cancer diagnosis, I don’t know, you kind of get a fire under your butt to go do something bigger with your life,” Tredwell said, “And for me it was to fly.”

Graham, coming from an aviation family, felt a pull toward the sky and decided to pursue further training, instruction and ultimate licensing.

Like Graham, a couple of the campers hope to one day earn their pilots license or work in the aviation field.

Some may participate in the aviation camp to take a step toward their career, while others find freedom.

“It was pretty fun, I was really free-a free experience,” Quinn Scharn said, “A lot of freedom up there."

Scharn had bone cancer when he was a child, and though he was always interested in aviation it was the beauty of the Montana landscape that struck a chord with him.

“I was flying over these snowy mountains, and over all these frozen lakes,” Scharn said, “I’ve never seen anything like it—only on Mission Impossible.”

Megan Custer, a cancer survivor, past camper, and Assistant Director for Big Sky Kids at Eagle Mount highlights the importance of support for young adult survivors.

“The support doesn’t go away when you leave, the support is still there, you are still in contact with all of these people and the ability to look something in the eye and say, ‘I got this’…like flying a plane!” Custer said.

The camp brings freedom and community together through aviation.

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