By: Mary L. Smith

“Imagine the miracle or miracles that are on the other side of fear,” said Laurie Leadley, President of the Valley Sleep Center (VSC), breast cancer survivor and the evening’s top sponsor. Send Me On Vacation (SMOV) has had a profound impact on Laurie’s life; she is a two time cancer survivor and a recipient of a 2016 survivor vacation. Motivated by the positive impact SMOV has had on her life, she has devoted her time, energy and resources to host The VSC Masquerade Ball.

Sahara Scottsdale, located in the Sonoran Desert, is blessed with dramatic sunsets, majestic saguaro cacti and beautiful Arabian Horses. This storied equestrian facility set the stage for a post Halloween Masquerade Ball. As guests entered Sahara, The GregPaul Band set the mood for a festive evening complete with a cash bar, middle-eastern cuisine and a variety of delectable desserts.

As the sun faded and the lights switched on, Ally Nelson introduced guests to four of Sahara’s most beloved Arabians. Carrots became a valued commodity as guests tried to win a moment in the spotlight with one of Sahara’s stars. As the equine portion of the evening wrapped up, Laurie spoke about the prevalence of breast cancer in our society, “that it is NOT a matter of if someone you love will be affected by breast cancer, it’s a matter of when”. Until there is a cure SMOV will continue to provide survivors with therapeutic style vacations.

The climax of the evening occurred when Rhonda Williams was awarded a survivor vacation. SMOV understands the psychological and financial toll cancer takes on individuals and their families. SMOV is constantly searching for ways to ensure that survivor vacations are stress free. Cathy Backus founder and Chairman of SMOV, is a travel industry veteran and continues to use her vast network of resources to ensure that the cost of airfare never prevents a recipient from participating in a survivor vacation. Cathy and her colleagues understand what survivors need and make every effort to ensure recipients do not incur any further financial hardships. Recently board member Douglas Murray learned of a survivor would not be able to participate in a trip due to the cost of airfare from Chicago to The Gold Coast of Australia; he personally intervened and generously provided the ticket necessary for the recipient’s journey.

SMOV seems to bring out the best in people. Many generous individuals have donated points and airlines tickets to assist survivors in securing airfare. In 2015, Heather Campbell, a flight attendant with Southwest Airline and a breast cancer survivor was awarded a vacation. Since attending her vacation she has participated in her employers Tickets for Time Program which has allowed Heather to pay it forward and help fellow survivors with airfare for their trips.

As I reflect on the amazing people and survivors I met at Sahara, I am reminded of the music of Aaron Copeland, Fanfare for the Common Man written in 1942 for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and inspired by a speech given by United States Vice President Henry A. Wallace, proclaiming the dawning of the “Century of the Common Man”. When you hear the inspirational stories and achievements of survivors, their families and friends, it is important to remember that common people are capable of extraordinary things. Cathy has utilized her passion for travel to help build a network of love and support that ensures survivors thrive.

SMOV is happy to report to date they have been able to fulfill all requests of Phoenix area survivors. There are many ways to get involved in this 100% all volunteer charity. If you know a breast cancer survivor that would benefit from participating in a therapeutic vacation, please encourage them to learn more about this charity and apply. To learn more about SMOV please visit: