Showing their sunny side

Young cancer patients build friendships at annual games

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The days can be tough and painful for most children with cancer.

In an effort to help, the Sunshine Kids Foundation is bringing 25 youths from six states and Washington, D.C. to Steamboat Springs for a winter vacation from Sunday to March 11.

"Instead of a family outing, Sunshine Kids brings the kids together so they form their own network of friends," Jennifer Wisler said. "It gets them away from hospital treatments and hospital stays. It gives them some independence away from their parents. This gives them the opportunity to break away."

During their stay in Steamboat, the children will learn to ski or snowboard, go on a sleigh ride dinner and snowmobile trip at Saddleback Ranch, build snow forts, tube at Steamboat Ski Area and compete in an Olympic-style event.

"We have had the most wonderful contacts in Steamboat," Wisler said. "The Sheraton Steam----boat Resort, Prudential Steamboat Springs, the mountain (Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.), they've all really come through."

Wisler said she came to Routt County in December to scout the area as a potential location for the weeklong vacation. The Sunshine Kids Winter Games typically are held in Aspen. This is Steamboat's first year hosting the event.

"We wanted to go to a more family-oriented area, and we've always heard great things about Steamboat," Wisler said. "We are very excited about the family atmosphere. We will have 25 kids for our first pilot trip. We hope to up that next year and in the years to come."

For most of the children, this will be their first time on a plane and on skis. The children also have expressed interest in meeting the Iacovetto family, which runs Saddleback Ranch. The E! Entertainment Television reality series "Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive" was filmed there.

"The kids are already asking about them," Wisler said. "I met them, so we are really excited. They know about that reality show out there, and the kids want to ask them about that."

Doctors and nurses will accompany the children, who are coming from a variety of hospitals from across the country, including Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, Jonathan Jaques Children's Cancer Center in Long Beach, Calif., Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, Jackson Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind.

The Sunshine Kids Foundation is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free group activities to children with cancer.

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