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.