Debbie King Ford

Debbie King Ford wanted to help other women battling breast cancer when Shaw Cancer Center opened in fall 2001. She had undergone a lumpectomy earlier that year at Vail Health Hospital, followed by radiation in Denver. So she joined the Shaw Outreach Team (SOT), a volunteer group that includes many cancer survivors.

SOT’s founders went to Dr. Patty Hardenbergh, the new cancer center’s director, and asked, “What do you need?”

“Housing,” Dr. Hardenbergh said. “I’ve got out-of-town patients sleeping in their cars.”

The SOT took the need to heart. They raised $4.5 million in less than a year to build a lodgelike facility for cancer patients and their families. The group named it “Jack’s Place” in honor of Dr. Jack Eck, who played a key role in creating Shaw.

The money raised, the facility built—King Ford rotated off the SOT board. “Mission accomplished,” she thought. All done with cancer. Except—she wasn’t.

A 2014 mammogram showed microcalcifications in King Ford’s left breast. These clusters of tiny white dots can be an early sign—sometimes the only early sign — of breast cancer. “I was stunned,” she recalls. “I’m healthy. Really healthy. Ski-all-day healthy. Bicycle-over-Vail-Pass healthy.”

Two weeks later, taking no chances, King Ford had a double mastectomy and preliminary reconstructive surgery. Thanks to Shaw’s comprehensive facilities and specialists, she didn’t have to leave Vail.

King Ford liked the convenience; she loved the care she received. “The service was impeccable,” she says. “The doctors, the nurses, the nurse navigator—everyone was wonderful. I was so thrilled and honored that the facility I’d helped raise money for was the place I got my treatment.”