First Descents is by far the greatest networking group for young adults with cancer! And there's the bonus of learning rad outdoor adventure skills such as whitewater kayaking and rock climbing. I happen to get this message first hand from our participants, as I work at several camps per year as "camp mom" and at each camp I attend, the consensus is overwhleming that FD is amazing and changes/touches their lives deeply! It is the greatest thing I have ever been involved with!
Having worked at several FD camps now, I cannot say enough about how they keep it simple and real to have the most positive impact. Learning to kayak is huge for the participants, but what they really get from the whole camp experience is so much more. I have heard from several campers that these FD camps are the best cancer camp they have ever been to and for many, maybe the best 6 days of their life!
This camper story says it all about this organization:
'm not really good with words, but I'm going to try. Every day since I finished treatment I woke up and told myself I was healed because it was so much easier to deny that I was still hurting than it was to admit that I probably wouldn't be completely healed for a long time, or ever. I never spoke to anyone about my illness, not even my parents, I wanted people to treat me normally and not see me as "that girl with cancer." At FD people accepted me, and for the first time in 14 years I was able to talk about my illness, it wasn't easy but I finally feel like maybe I'm on the right track. I got to work on my fears of being underwater (I never really learned to swim because I couldn't get my central line wet when I was sick), and I met some of the most awe-inspiring, courageous, beautiful, and warm hearted people on earth. I was terrified of the graduation rapid, but just as I was going over it I felt all of the love and support of everyone at camp 61, family, friends, and that of my friend/hospital roommate who passed away when I was 7. That love and support brought me safely through the rapids, and there was a huge sense of accomplishment and freedom when I caught that final eddy. A lot of my emotional pain was washed away somewhere between the lake on the first day and running the graduation rapid. Thank you is not enough for what you and the other staff at FD have done, but I have to say thank you so so much for being so supportive and fostering an environment that allowed us to challenge ourselves, face our fears and learn from each other. I will be joining Team FD to say thank you and pay it forward, hopefully rowing a marathon. This will be the greatest athletic challenge I have ever faced, but I will draw my strength from my week at First Descents. What an amazing organization.
As one of the co-founders of this organization, I have had the amazing opportunity to see what can happen to young adult survivors when they are given the chance to "check" their cancer experiences at the door and get back a piece of their lives that sometimes gets forgotten. This "sense of self" is allowed to blossom through our intense (and sometimes downright scary) whitewater kayaking camp. Now in our 10th year, we have touched nearly 500 lives from all over the country and nearly everyday I get an email or a letter from past participants about how much joy they have found from their experience at First Descents whether it was through the fear and challenges they overcame to complete our week at camp or through the amazing network of survivors they have found as a result of attending camp who now have become closer than family in some cases. I think that what we provide can best be summed up by one of our recent participants from this year's camp up in Glacier National Park in Montana when she said, "I have been to many cancer camps and this is the first one that is not about the cancer." We urge any yound adult survivor between the ages of 18 and 40 to come experience the magic of First Descents and we will do everything we can to help them get "back their spirit" of life!
My husband and I were able to receive scholarships to attend FD's first couples retreat. Since I went through cancer when our relationship was still in the very early stages (he was just my boyfriend) it was very helpful and empowering to be around other couples with the same issues we struggled with. I did great on the white water kayaking. It was a great bonding experience for me and my husband. I think it was a great way not only to boost my self confidence but to reassure him that I was ok. FD cooked all homemade meals family style while we were there. There were so many WONDERFUL volunteers with the organization and this trip. We had an ER doctor that came down the river with us on his day off, the kayak enthusiasts who enlisted their friends to loan their boats for the week, etc.
I haven't felt so alive in a long time!! You start to think the world actually only consists of what you're experiencing, like surgeries or uncertainty or loss... but then you taste mountain air and spider up a rock face and remember THERE IS SO MUCH MORE LIFE TO BE LIVED.
I have been involved with First Descents since 2004. I have known the founder Brad Ludden since 2001...I can tell you all from personal experience that you will not find a more committed group of people than those behind the wheel at First Descents. Spend one day in their company and you will be infused with the inspiration that they pass on to young adult with cancer and cancer survivors on a daily basis at these camps. I have spoken with dozens of cancer survivors that have attended these camps, and they all say the same thing: "one of the best experiences of my life" Brad, Chuck, Jinny, and the whole FD crew in Colorado are a personal inspiration to me as well to keep giving back and helping people in need. Join this cause, and you will feel like a new, better person...I promise you. Terry L., Montana
I was a participant in one of the FD kayaking programs last summer. It changed my life. I'll never forget the connections I made with other survivors and one day I hope to be able to give back to this great organization that has given me so much!
First Descents is the most effective cancer survivor support organization I've been involved with during a career of over 30 years in oncology. Both participants and volunteers and empowered and enriched by the experience. Cancer survivors must get beyond victimhood to live full and happy lives- First Descents helps them rediscover the confident and capable person inside who may have gotten lost during the cancer journey.
Cancer taught me about death. First Descents taught me how to live. Most valuable week of my life. I hope many others will be able to attend and benefit as I did.
This program is amazing. As a benefactor of a wonderful week kayaking in Montana near Glacier National Park, I can highly recommend this program. A huge part of what makes it so great is the amazing volunteer staff. I know that this organization spends it's money wisely on providing wonderful experiences for cancer survivors. As someone said, "This is a cancer camp that's not about cancer." It's about amazing experiences, challenging yourself to do something difficult and sometimes scary, and making great friends along the way.
Magical. Energizing. Peaceful. Challenging. Loving. First Descents ranks up there as one of my all-time favorite experiences. The moment I stepped off the plane and met my fellow FDers, it felt like a family. I was amazed at the instant trust each one of the campers had in the volunteers and counselors. FD gives you an opportunity to be out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself in the midst of the most beautiful spots in the country. Because of my experience with First Descents, I even more grateful for my second chance at life.
First Descents was an amazing esperience for all attending lending to continued reflection and positive life changes for all. FD brings together young adult cancer survivors with others who have been through a similar life threatening disease and gives them a place to connect and not feel alone, face fears of descending whitewater rapids (and of illness), and be in nature to heal on the emotional, mental and Spiritaul levels, in a supportive, kind, fun and playful atmosphere. I saw many volunteers give so much to others over the week-it was awesome!!!
I took my First Descent in June 2008, and it was an experience that would forever change my life. In August 2004, at 32 years of age, my carefree world as I knew it was turned upside down when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. For the next 7 months, I battled this disease with every ounce of strength I had. I easily coasted through my treatments and surgeries never imagining that the period following my cancer treatment would be so difficult. For months afterwards, I struggled to find my “new normal”. I felt that I had missed out on so much as I watched my friends around me move up in their careers, get married, and have children. I often felt I had no one to turn to, no person who would understand how I really felt. And then there was the constant fear of mortality... In June 2008, I boarded a plane to a First Descents camp in Montana with many reservations. To my surprise, my reluctant decision to attend was one of the the best decisions I ever made! For the first time since I was diagnosed, I did not feel different or pitied. I was challenged to do things that I thought I could never do. I learned the true beauty of humankind through the volunteers I met. I took a little piece from each camper that to this day continues to inspire me. Most importantly, I learned to love myself again. I returned home happy, empowered, and part of a whole new family. Thanks in grand part to First Descents, I was finally able to close my "cancer" chapter. No more pity parties for me!! I have since completed a half-marathon, learned how to snow ski, continued my travels, and returned to the "social scene". My wonderful medical team in Miami may have cured me physically, but First Descents mended my battered heart and soul.
First Descents was amazing experience. I was able to conquer my fears, meet new people, and do things I never thought was possible. It allowed me to focus on things other than my cancer. But, it also allowed me to joke about cancer with people who understood where I was coming from. I believe that FD is one of the best things that I have ever done. I am lucky to have been able to participate in such a great program.
First Descents has a unique offering of adventure which bring together young adults. Together we face our fears and take on bigger challenges each day. Without the forces walls of a therapy room or hospital, the conversations naturally occur. The friendships are life-long and the new found confidence is amazing. First Descents is the best thing to come from my cancer experience. FD offers well structured programs, with highly qualified staff. The amount of care put into our safety is amazing. Thank you FD!!!
I had the idea to start First Descents in 1999. After working on it for 2 years and with the help of many people, we were able to scrape together our first camp. It was then we realized we had something. Kayaking had deeply impacted my life and I believed it could do the same or more for others in need. It did. The participants who attend FD seize every opportunity we present and face the challenge of kayaking head on. By doing so, they are proving they aren't fragile because of their cancer, they're still in control of their life and they meet friends that become family.
It was amazing to see what happened when two of my worlds collided. The experience was surreal as I met people whose passion for nature was shared with people who truly understand the need to live for the moment. I saw one group inspired because the other group showed them that there was nothing wrong with living life for the moment. I saw the other group inspired by being shown how. It was the first time in my life I was able to be with survivors, face to face, in a place that encouraged deep conversation.
I recently returned from my second camp. Cancer is many things but two things that come to mind are that it is limiting and it is a betrayal. I face physical limitations, such as fatigue and poor balance, that limit my world compared to before being diagnosed. Others may have lost their fertility, limbs or bear other physical and emotional scars. Beyond that, cancer is a betrayal; our body is literally killing itself and acts in ways that defy sense. First Descents is the anti-dote to all of this. While there are many things I can't do compared to my pre-cancer self, one thing I can do is kayak. And to learn something that requires physical exertion and balance, has given me a newfound confidence that is difficult to explain. While my physicians prevented me from dying (for which I am incredibly grateful), FD helped teach me how to live.
Seeing firsthand the approach that First Descents takes to young adult cancer, via kayaking as adventure therapy, has revolutionized my thinking on how an organization can use adventure sports to give back and how effective that gift can be to each and every participant and volunteer!
This was my second full week experience with First Descents (FD). As a returning camper to their adult cancer survivors kayak camp, I expected nothing but a memorable experience - and I was not disappointed! FD provides adults with both a physical and emotional experience by connecting them with other adult survivors in a comfortable environment. Between the kayaking, the food, staff/volunteer support, and the sharing of personal triumphs and struggles - you almost forget it cost your health to attend. By connecting with more survivors and mixing in an activity that some of us would never have encountered on our own, FD has created the perfect blend for adults to rejuvenate and inspire.
I recently returned from my first week with First Descents. It was life changing! I met some of the most amazing people in my life that week, campers and staff included. I loved the adventure of kayaking but mostly enjoyed being surrounded by people filled with strength, courage and an abundent willingess to live life to the fullest. FD creates an atmosphere that is unrivaled! The Ludden family is amazing for creating this opportunity for young cancer survivors and I hope to do my best to assist them in furthering their efforts and to continue to experience First Descents for years to come!