tum Washburn spent time apart was when Aspen was rushed to the Denver Children’s hospital for emergency surgery at age eight.
That was four years ago. A lot has happened since. Aspen stayed in Denver for a long time, undergoing critical Leukemia treatments and surgery. When Aspen was strong enough to come home, her parents Todd and Tami, had to drive her to the only children’s oncologist in the state, which meant multiple trips to Billings each week.
After three-and-a-half years of grueling chemotherapy treatments, the Washburns got good news from the doctors. Aspen’s blood is clean. She is cancer free.
To celebrate, the Washburns took a trip to Orlando, Fla. The all expenses paid vacation was gifted to the family through the Montana Hope Project.
In 1984, a group of Montana Highway Patrol Troopers scrounged up enough money to rent a bus. The troopers then filled the bus with kids suffering from life-threatening illnesses. They drove to Glacier National Park and showed the families the splendor of the park.
The Montana Hope Project was born.
From helicopter rides over the massive Glacier mountaintops, to a feast in a historic train stop inn, the troopers have been helping children in pain get a little relief for 30 years.
The project has grown to include individual wishes for sick children and their families. That’s how the Washburns were able to vacation in Florida.
“Aspen waited on her wish until she was better,” Tami said. “It was a celebration of her getting better.”
At the end of September, 10 highway patrol troopers took Aspen and Autum out for pizza. Trooper Glen Barcus presented Aspen with an all expenses paid trip to Orlando, including all the amusement park passes the family could use. Barcus even handed Aspen a spending money check to use during her vacation.
The week of the twins’ birthday in October, the Washburn family boarded a plane across the United States.
If Florida, the Washburns stayed at a resort called Give the Kids the World Village. Families stay in whimsical villas and swim, ride horses, play mini golf and enjoy pizza and ice cream any time of the day. Five hundred volunteers show up each day to run the village for sick children.
“I really liked the swimming pool and all the rides,” Aspen said. “And the Harry Potter ride and the safari.”
In the safari, Aspen got to see her favorite animal, a giraffe. At home, Aspen often clung to a massive giraffe, “Gigi,” when she needed some comfort. Seeing real giraffes with her family after beating cancer was unbeatable.
The twins didn’t mind missing a few days of sixth grade at the Belgrade Middle School for one unforgettable trip.
“I was so excited to finally be done with cancer,” Aspen said. “We could all relax together. I want to go back.”
Though a week in kid paradise couldn’t make up for time the girls were apart during Aspen’s sickness, it helped the two to bond even more.
“It was really hard when she got cancer because I had to go to school by myself,” Autum said. “I was so used to having Aspen by my side all the time. When she came back, I was so excited.”
The Washburns say they are incredibly blessed. Todd has already beat cancer twice. In the hospital, Tami remembers meeting parents whose children didn’t survive.
“Everyday it’s in the back of my mind,” Tami said. “But we celebrate health now.”
Autum shares her mom’s hopeful attitude.
“We are so glad Aspen is here today,” Autum said. “She’s a tough cookie!”
Tami said her family is passionate about raising money for the St. Jude’s Children Hospital and praying for children still coping with cancer. Aspen wants to encourage as many kids as she can.
“I would tell other kids with cancer to not give up hope,” Aspen said. “I would tell them they’re awesome. They can make it through it. They are strong and everyone loves them.”