Dog sled adventure therapy for Nova Scotia cancer survivor

Two Nova Scotia teenage cancer survivors are getting ready for a seven day dog sledding exhibition in Ontario as part of a wilderness therapy adventure.

Organizers say a cancer diagnosis can be a real blow to a teenager's self-esteem

Participants from last year's dog sled expedition in Algonquin Park, Ont. (On the Tip of the Toes Foundation)

Two Nova Scotia teenage cancer survivors are getting ready for a seven-day dog sledding expedition in Ontario as part of a wilderness therapy adventure.

This week, 14 cancer survivors between the ages of 14 and 18 from across Canada will meet in Montreal and bus to Algonquin Park for the six-day trip.

On the Tip of the Toes Foundation gives young people with cancer an opportunity to get away from the hospital environment and experience a personal challenge.

Foundation spokesman Marc-André Galbrand said for teenagers, a cancer diagnosis can be a real blow to their self-esteem.

"It affects every aspect of someone's life and for teenagers, at a time when they are looking for their identity, and cancer comes and takes away their adolescence," he said.

"Often they'll be taken out of school for treatments, they'll sometimes lose their friends."

Sled for five hours a day

During the trip, the teens are expected to help care for the dogs, learn mushing skills and take part in camp chores. They sleep in tents and sled for up to five hours a day.

They will be joined by wilderness guides, a doctor, a nurse and a social worker.

The crew also includes a blogger who will record the trip so family and friends back home can follow the teens' progress.

The adventure comes at no cost to the families. Everything from airfare to the gear needed for the trip is covered by the foundation.

"Often it will be the oncologist or the nurses in the oncology department that once their patients are finished their treatments, will talk to them about our expeditions," Galbrand said. "If they are interested, all they have to do is apply," 

That was the case for 15-year-old Dawson Evans of Wilmot, N.S. He finished three and a half years of treatments for acute lymphocytic leukemia last month and doctors suggested he would be a good candidate for the trip.

'Do more things on his own'

His mother, Pamela Evans, said it took some convincing before Dawson felt ready to participate.

"He was a little hesitant at first, because, once you get to know him he's social, but he's hesitant at first with new people," she said.

"All the kids that are going to be on the expedition don't know each other and they're all from across Canada."

The teens are from British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Evans said Dawson is excited now that he knows more about the trip and what to expect.

"His parents have been pretty close the last three and a half years, around him," Evans laughed.

"Hopefully it will open his eyes that he doesn't always need mum and dad around ... I'm hoping he'll venture out and do more things on his own."

Dawson's adventure begins on Friday. 

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