Full moon rising east of Brent's Place in Denver.
Childhood Cancer, Children's Hospital Colorado, Denver, Life After Cancer, Remission

A Denver Love Affair

Life in small-town Durango is just a titch idyllic, with it’s quiet neighborhoods, numerous bike paths, unpolluted night skies, very little traffic, and easy access to hiking trails. Living in a more urban environment, with it’s population density and light pollution doesn’t feel as favorable to me. Having spent my undergraduate years in Austin, Texas, and years later earning my doctorate in the San Francisco Bay area, I have enjoyed the best of what a large city has to offer. That being said, for most of my adult life I’ve been surrounded by wilderness, national forest and BLM land, I am guilty of being jaded against “the city”. That city, in this case, was Denver.

Years ago I lived in Nederland, a tiny mountain town an hour’s drive and 3,000 vertical feet above the sprawling metropolis. I remember the prejudice I held against Denver then. What I perceived as an outsider peering through the flatland smog was sprawl, cookie-cutter houses, grit, and pollution. Even last winter, I struggled at times to enjoy the hospital’s seventh floor views of the plains to the south. (Again: spoiled by Durango’s gorgeous views in all directions).

A winter’s sunset as viewed from the guest suite at Brent’s Place.

Last month, I experienced a perspective shift concerning the Mile High City. Over the week of Thanksgiving, our family traveled to the Front Range (which is the name for the north-south corridor in this state, extending from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs; it comprises all of major the cities east of the Rockies and probably more than 90% of the state’s population). We spent a couple of glorious days in Denver, at Brent’s Place, for a routine follow up oncology visit. Then we pushed on another 65 miles north to visit some friends in Fort Collins. We enjoyed a lovely three-night stay at Chris and Rachel’s house, while our collective 4 kids had lives of their own. We all shared a festive and fabulous Thanksgiving holiday. We did not, however, catch a ray of sunlight for the entire duration of our visit. The weather was bitterly cold and snowy, so we didn’t venture out except for a fleeting,freezing jaunt into Old Town (the downtown shopping area).

The kids’ table at Thanksgiving.

Upon our departure from family-friendly Fort Collins, Craig and I quickly discovered that our windshield wiper fluid lines were frozen solid. Driving south toward Denver, we stopped every fifteen minutes to clean off our windshield, because the roads were covered in the dirty slush that remains after a snowstorm.

I don’t know if it was because the sun started peeking through, or because of the arduousness of our drive, but by the time we approached Denver, I felt at home. I breathed a sigh of relief. Ahhh, Denver. Good ol’, familiar, somewhat sunny Denver. It was the light at the end of the tunnel on that so-far dreary drive. (The fluid lines did end up thawing, about 2 and a half hours into our drive).

We did have a particularly warm and fuzzy experience while in Denver earlier in the week. Craig had done most of the driving up from Durango, giving me a chance to relax and take in the sights. I have come to discover that I actually enjoy the familiarity of the 350-mile drive, (not the length, but the familiar cattle ranches, bird sanctuaries, rivers, passes, and mountain ranges). We arrived at Brent’s Place and were received with open arms, as usual. We felt like royalty, being ushered at the last-minute in front of the lens of a professional photographer for a family photo shoot (note to family: we don’t have the photos yet). Following that unexpected bonus, we and the Brent’s Place residents and staff were treated to a special Monday night community dinner: a delicious, homemade Thanksgiving meal.

The kids at the Denver Zoo.

Our urban experience was made complete by a family breakfast at Snooze (our favorite eatery), a shopping experience at Trader Joe’s, and a balmy 64 degree adventure at the Denver Zoo. Getting to visit my favorite haunts while in the city brings me a sense of inner grounedness and joy.

The highlight of my time at Brent’s Place during this trip was getting to meet Don Eley, one of the founders. He and his wife lost their son Brent in the late 1980’s due to complications after a bone marrow transplant. In the wake of that tragedy, they created Brent’s Place, to provide a safe and clean home for families of immune compromised children while they are undergoing treatment at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

We met him in the community kitchen. It was an otherwise ordinary moment, as I had my back to my family, plating up our lunches. Tom, who looked strangely familiar, struck up a casual conversation with Craig. Then I heard him introduce himself, as one of the founders. In that moment, my whole world stopped. I felt the immense weight of his loss, even though it was decades ago. I became overwhelmed with a complicated mix of emotions that included, at the forefront, a deep, humbling sense of gratitude. He founded this place! We have been able to stay here because of his and his wife Linda’s vision, loving service, and perseverance.

Me with DonnEley
Posing for a photo in front of Brent Eley, for which Brent’s Place was founded, with his father and founder Donn Eley.

Donn headed over my direction to use the hand sink, and I managed to tell him, through a trembling voice, “I can’t tell you how grateful we are for this place.” His response blew me away even more, as he graciously accepted the compliment, smiling warmly and telling me that it was their privilege to be able to serve. I was self-conscious, due to the tears spilling down my cheeks and my trembling chin. “I’m feeling emotional,” I muttered. He was warm, and unphased by my expression of emotion. He metioned how they have gone from a dark and scary place, to an empowered one. I wish that I had written down what he said, as it was profoundly beautiful and quote-worthy.

Maybe it was meeting Donn that cinched the deal for me with Denver. Or maybe it was having ventured further north into bad weather and then returning to familiar ground. But somehow, the City of Denver has worked its way into my heart. I recently related my newly discovered feelings to a friend who grew up in a Denver suburb. She could easily see the connection for me. “That’s where you underwent all of your growth,” she pointed out.

Watching from Brent’s place as a full moon rises over Anschutz Medical Campus (where Children’s Hospital is).

No wonder I like to have my Ikea Family Card and my Zoo Membership Card with me at all times in my wallet. As these physical items remind me of an important part of my recent life experience. Denver was where Chloe’s healing and life-saving journey began. It was where she and I learned to cope, and where the four of us learned to appreciate each other on a whole new level. It is where my family will travel to and from, again and again, for years to come, for follow up visits.

We have made some heartfelt connections, and have created countless endearing memories. I can see Denver as being a place that we will continue to discover and enjoy, for years to come. It’s not so bad to have a connection with a city. As there are many perks to city living that are not offered in small towns. I love having two homes. And thanks to the generosity Brent’s Place, we do have a home away from home to provide comfort in the midst of an urban area. I feel that we have found the best of both worlds: a small town lifestyle, supplemented occasionally with the amenities of the city.  It’s a perfect balance of urban and small town for us, and I am feeling very grateful!

You can find more information about Brent’s Place HERE.  Just today I discovered that if you scroll down on the home page, there is a testimonial from me (taken from my Caring Bridge writing).  I am humbled and honored to have become a part of the Brent’s Place Experience.

Dr. Stephanie is a chiropractor, writer, mom, and wife who lives and plays in Durango, Colorado. Her passion is empowering people to discover their truth and express optimum health.

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