‘Tell cancer to take a hike’: Summit County program looks to provide outdoor recreation to cancer survivors and patients

Dan Miller began running retreats for cancer patients and survivors in 2009 after his wife's death.
Dan Miller/ Courtesy photo

Dan Miller met his wife, Julie Wrend, when she was 34. What Miller thought was a cool punk haircut at first ended up being the aftermath of chemotherapy. Wrend was battling breast cancer, a battle she would lose in 2007.

During her fight, Wrend found solace in being outdoors and hiking. Miller said it was something she would turn to every time there was a setback in her illness. He was amazed at what hiking gave her as a cancer patient. So, after her passing, he decided it was time to share the experiences that Wrend found power and motivation in with other cancer patients and survivors. Two years after her death, Live by Living was born, which is a cancer-based, not cancer-focused, program. Miller has been running the program free of charge for participants in well-loved Colorado recreation hotspots in Summit and Eagle counties.

The organization has since taken 1,400 patients on nearly 90 different retreats. At the time, very little research existed on whether or not recreating outside actually benefited the mental and physical state of cancer patients and survivors. Seeing what this did for Wrend, Miller had a feeling that it did, but he had no proof. Research nearly a decade later would prove him right. 

“At the time, we were thinking this kind of exercise had to be good for her, but there weren’t really any studies to show that,” Miller said. “Now there’s evidence that regular exercise does help reduce the risk of recurrence of breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and other kinds of cancer.  

“It’s really kind of a magic pill for some,” Miller added. 

Live by Living runs various retreats and activities for a range of abilities. Driven by the motto “tell cancer to take a hike,” this organization looks to provide free recreation opportunities for cancer patients and survivors. 

Miller noted one of the largest benefits of this trip, which is unforeseen by many, is the connections and sense of community people build. People join a retreat for an experience and leave with a lifelong support group. 

“Cancer is kind of a very isolating experience. It’s easy to feel like you’re alone,” Miller said. “People share their experiences and how they dealt with it. … The sense of camaraderie developed is huge.”

Miller explained that many of the people that join these retreats end up finding a hiking buddy to recreate with beyond the experience.

The hut trips the program runs are a fan favorite. Given these hut trips are vehicle supported, Miller looks for locations that are easily accessible. He said Uncle Bud’s Hut in Lake County is one of their go-to’s because of it. 

Generally, these hut trips are in Breckenridge, Estes Park and the Peter Estin Hut in southern Eagle County. Miller said he specifically hosts some retreats at YMCA conference center in Estes Park for those with more limited mobility. The recreation done at the other locations can be more extensive and is not for everyone. 

Upcoming retreats include:

  • Sept 26-28  YMCA conference center, Estes Park 
  • Oct 1-3 YMCA conference center, Estes Park 
  • Oct 7-9 Couples retreat, Breckenridge

Live by Living also hosts Walks into Wellness. Locations vary, and those interested can follow the calendar to find a walk to attend. The program’s “Hikes into Health” work the same way. 

The program additionally hosts “Cancer to 14K” which is a 10-week conditioning program for cancer survivors and their caregivers. This includes weekly group hikes, and the hikes get harder each week. The program cites a recommendation from The National Comprehensive Cancer Network that survivors get at least 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate exercise as their driving force for the event. 

Miller noted that a grant from The Summit Foundation this year provided a boat load of support to the program and played a role in allowing them to continue this kind of work. 

Those interested in participating will need to create a user profile and password on the program’s website to register for retreats and other events. More information can be found on Live by Living’s website.

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