I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience River Discovery this past summer - a life affirming adventure for cancer survivors. A six day trip on the Salmon River with option to be as active as you want to/can be: either rafting, kayaking on your own or just relaxing and letting someone else do the work- it was an eye opening, inspiring connection to nature, other survivors and joy - perfect for all different levels of fitness and ability. Can’t recommend these people, their adventures and how it will transform everyone who participates - strongly enough. Life changing!
Thank you for inviting my sister Calley Masson Sunderman to your river discovery!
Meet my sister Calley. As most of you know I celebrated her cancer survival on Mt. Kilimanjaro with a great group of friends and cancer warriors in 2014( Survivor Summit 2014).
26 years ago this week, after competing in a PAC 10 Track event in the 1500 m a few days before, she was admitted to a local Phoenix hospital with a ‘kidney infection’.
I was coincidentally traveling from Gainesville, FL, walking through the Dallas airport en route to Seattle for my first neurosurgery job interview. Remember those ‘white courtesy phones’. Who actually used them and how did they know to call you?
Walking through the airport, Sony Walkman on and my wife tugging at my shirt, “Robert, they are asking you to pick up the ‘white courtesy phone”.
An hour later I was on a different flight to Phoenix. My dad had called me on that mysterious phone.(remember cell phones weren’t a thing yet)
Of course he was worried, but nothing made sense. The words infections and mass in a world class trackster in peak shape at 21, knowing her mom had died of cancer at 30. The universe spoke to me and thank God I was listening.
I checked her out of her hospital, against medical advice ( yeah right), when I arrived at 1 am, after seeing her scan and understanding that she had a 7:30 am needle biopsy of her ‘infection’. The ugliest looking cancer I had seen to date.
I brought her ‘home’ to Shands Hospital in Gainesville where I was Chief Resident of neurosurgery. I assembled the dream team of 7 pound kidney sarcoma tumor surgery including the Urology wizard, Chairman Zev Wajsman, the heart transplant surgery director to rebuild the vena cava after the radical resection and the liver team because of the partial liver resection where it was attached.
After a brilliant surgery recovery, we fired three medical oncologists who liked to quote failure data, understanding that 5% 5 year survival quotes weren’t preparing us to be the exception, the top 1%er, the only distinction that we considered a reasonable goal.
This week, one year after winning a second battle with a Cancer of her nasal sinuses (with special thanks to Dr. Jeffrey Larson), we celebrate her 26 year anniversary from that horrible evil cancer as she celebrates her family and the 3 year old boy, ‘she wasn’t supposed to be able to have’.
Can you imagine if
1. I didn’t get the white courtesy phone call in the Dallas airport from our dad
2. I didn’t answer the call
3. I didn’t somehow reroute my entire trip to Seattle on the spot
4. Denise didn’t interrupt my Walkman
jam and tell me she heard my name on the overhead
Listen to your little voices, step out of your path if the universe speaks to you, and never, ever make a life saving or changing plan based on failure statistics.
We always, always aim to be the top percentage of outcome, in every adversity we find our selves in.
Thank you for inspiring me always Calley Masson Sunderman! I love you!
This is a great non-profit that not only seeks to support and benefit cancer survivors through outdoor trips and activities but has also created a network of friends through shared experiential healing. People tend to have different experiences depending on what they are really looking for or need. This organization has great leadership in their director and a strong board and should be around for many more years to come. Check out the Main Salmon River 6-day Adventure!
I went on the first snowshoe adventure program. There were about twenty-five people who drove up to a snow groomed trail outside Idaho City in the Boise National Forest. We snowshoed a loop trail ( about 4 miles) Beautiful weather, cold but we all were warmed with the exercise and camaraderie . We all finished and had a great box dinner and then drove a few miles to end the day soaking in a hot springs pool and reflecting on the great day we all had .....I true success for
River Discovery - nature does heal .
We were on our annual week-long float in the Salmon River Wilderness. One participant seemed particularly hesitant and tentative, said little, and never smiled. Late on the second day we had a tough climb to a hot pool atop a cliff side. She reluctantly went along, needed a fair amount of help to make the top, but when she cleared the ridge line, she burst out with the most beautiful smile you've ever seen; a smile that never went away the entire rest of the week. People cheered and laughed and the entire tenor of the trip took on a whole new aura. As most participants say, the river trip is life changing. It surely was that day!
Thank you to River Discovery and the donors who support giving people another look on life.
River Discovery is a first class organization. Its mission, its board members, its operations, and the family of its founders all make this an experience for cancer patients (current and recovering) that will help them on many levels.
It is a sincere commitment for people who are struggling with health and mortality issues to take time to go to the river. River Discovery welcomes these people into an experience that will encourage them to pause the pain and fear, to feel gratitude and hopefulness, and enjoy camaraderie. I most enthusiastically participated as a cancer victim in the 2018 River Discovery 6 day trip down the Main Salmon. Currently I am embracing the gratitude of life in a way that I never did before the cancer diagnosis. Thank you!
There is no depth greater than that of my gratitude to these folks who, through the goodness and generosity of their hearts, put aside their own lives to spend a week reinvigorating my life. They cared for us; fed us; housed us; provided facilities for us in the midst of a wilderness. Their success was in reminding me and all of us who they serve that we are here and we belong in this world and can again find joy and strength and resilience in our lives. Thank you again and again.
River Discovery saved my life. I was feeling so depressed, physically challenged, and wondering how I could continue to live with it all. I have a rare stage 4 cancer with no treatments known to work and outlived my prognosis. My body was tired from all the surgeries and drugs we did try to keep things at bay. Then that phone call came from River Discovery...I was chosen to take a one week river trip with other survivors. After the euphoria of being chosen wore off the fear set in. How could I do it? Would my body cooperate? What if, what if, what if. The trip was life-altering. River Discovery has in place the medical staff, emotional support, and trained river guides from the company that provides the trip. There was 18 of us from all over, young to old, in remission to active disease, physically fit to barely walking and we persevered. I found the strength inside myself again out on that river to come home and be the me I needed to. Without River Discovery I would be a fraction of who I am. There is no better non-profit out there.....they help patients, families, widows, and survivors. The whole community of those that unfortunately get touched by a cancer diagnosis. Their programs of river trips, local paddling groups, retreats, and get togethers make differences in lives. Thank you River Discovery.
Review from Guidestar
Having been a river guide for decades, I have witnessed the healing power of all that rivers, wilderness, camps and firesides can bring to the soul. This organization was the brainchild of a remarkable couple whose lives revolved around wilderness rafting and guiding and who also faced serious illness in their own lives. The organization has evolved into one of the most remarkable ways to rejuvenate the spirit and connect to the beauty of our world at those times in life when one is most in need of hope and healing.
Terry Myers - River Discovery volunteer
Last year was my third year at River Discovery and each successive year brings me more happiness and hope through friendship and adventure. There are many great aspects of River Discovery, but its best attribute is that it treats everyone on the trip as a healthy adventurer able to take on challenges they are faced with despite their current medical condition. When I am on the River I forget about my struggles with cancer and the weaknesses I harbor; instead I am absorbed with the beauty of the river and the genuineness of the staff. One of the main reasons why River Discovery is so successful is that it is a metaphor for life. To me the river symbolizes the flow of time, the rapids represent adversity and challenge, and the flat water sections embody the stagnation of life energy. But despite the challenge of the rapids or the slowness of the flat water, we steadily journey down the river with hope and eager anticipation. River Discovery tempers its participants for real life experiences and teaches them the value of facing challenges that you know are inevitable, all while having a great time in a safe environment. River Discovery is successful on many levels of self development and gives the inspiration of strength to its participants. It's impossible to participate in River Discovery without transforming into a better version of yourself and discovering new strength inside you.
River Discovery was the best! I met some really amazing people! And best of all I got to raft on the MIddle Fork of the Salmon River. Something I never could have imagined doing after having cancer. During which time it was a very real possibility that I could have my leg amputated. Although I kept my leg thanks to the amazing doctors and other medical staff at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center I spent a year on crutches. That year was particularly depressing for me. At least when I was in the hospital I was one of the more mobil patients, but at school I was always being left behind and stared at. Getting to go on an amazing week long trek into the wild beauty of the Salmon really put me back on track with my life. I really can't wait until next years trip.
I was able to participate in River Discovery in 2011 as a breast cancer survivor, 6 months following chemo. My body still hurt, my hair was almost non existent and I was pretty defeated emotionally. The river trip addressed all of my needs and helped me "put my life pieces" back together again. I have since volunteered for and with River Discovery. I will always owe them a great debt for a life "reborn."
My son goes to River Discovery every year and he loves it. I cannot explain what River Discovery does for him. He gets a week long trip to just be him. No Dr's no mom's to ask how he is feeling...What a great program..
River Discovery gave me new life and freedom. Two years ago when I had a mascectomy, I learned very quickly, people were uncomfortable talking about cancer. I carried my fears and was depressed. However, sharing with other courageous women released me. I resumed my life but with a profound outlook. I have hope and courage. River Discovery made this all possible. I am in gratitude to the staff as they were selfless, guiding us and building trust.
I've been having the problem that words fail me when it comes to this experience. River Discovery runs an amazing program that provides just the right amount of adventure, relaxation, camaraderie and FUN with healthy doses of emotional support and opportunity for reflection. The volunteers and staff are some of the most caring and compassionate people I've met. When wildfires threatened to cancel our trip they went out of their way to make it happen when it surely would have been much easier for them to give up. This was truly the experience of a lifetime for me and I not only highly recommend it but will also continue to support this organization any way I can.
River Discovery is my favorite new nonprofit, EVER. As someone who has worked in nonprofits for 20+ years that's quite an endorsement. As a cancer survivor, heck as anyone, rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho was a trip of a lifetime. White sand beaches, 3 squares a day, unsurpassed weather, incredibly competent River Discovery volunteers and river guides, and the most beautiful river. (A huge hurrah also goes out to whomever saved the Frank Church Wilderness area. Wild and scenic is where it's at.) It shook some deep healing loose inside of me. My first day kayaking rapids elicited laughter from deep within, like being a little kid on a roller coaster for the first time - sheer joy at the adrenalin rush. And the camaraderie - cancer survivors from throughout the U.S., who just "got it." No need to explain the hell I've been through, just a set of awesome people focused on healing. The river literally moved us forward. I came home so deeply relaxed that it was revelatory - so that's what it feels to be unstressed! That was life changing, and it's not something that I get in a day-to-day setting. It's a gift of the wild and scenic, campfires, good company, and one amazing river. Floating down a river for days and days, and laughing so much left me feeling like *I* was floating, and so light of heart. Thanks to River Discovery, I found the healing I'd craved the entire 5-yr cancer journey. Now I know what that feels like. ( NB: I felt completely safe and cared for the whole week. The lack of cell phone service was a blessing - remember when we weren't on electronic leashes and could just be?) I thank River Discovery from the bottom of my heart, and I am so honored to have been included - I think this is *the* healing retreat for cancer survivors and I expect it to be mobbed for years to come.
This River Discovery is for adult cancer survivors. On my trip it was all woman with our "token" 83 year old man... what a hoot! I have some mobility issues because of my past medical problems and I was not sure I was going to be able to handle this trip. I found out on this exciting 5 day raft trip of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River that my life still has many exciting things to experience! The staff, rafting crew, and fellow survivors made this a trip of a lifetime for me.
Taking the week long trip down the Salmon River was life changing. The river shows you with each rapid, that while the waters are rough in spots. It does not last long and, and calmer water lies ahead.
Review from Guidestar
As a board member and volunteer for River Discovery i have had the pleasure of participating with all the staff and participants of this program. River Discovery continues to fine tune it's program, offer amazingly professional and excellent programs for cancer survivors and continues to grow each year. To see healing and growth happen in just six days of being with a group on the river is a gift for volunteers, staff and participants alike. I have seen first hand the impact this program has on all involved and am anxious to see it continue. We continue to seek partners who want to come alongside us and help us with talent as well as treasure so that lives will continue to be healed and changed.
As a friend and client of Joe and Fran Tonsmeire over the years, I have been involved with River Discovery since the beginnings. It has been a rewarding experience to participate with a group of energetic, passionate people in taking an idea and turning it into a reality. There have been a few bends in the road and some starts and stops but I believe at this juncture in the journey we have an amazing program in place. I have had the privilege of being on both the teen adventures as well as the adult trips. In a short amount of time, with all the right ingredients of river, food, fun, outdoors, professional guides, nature, sun, people and program, I've seen miracles occur. I have seen friendships form, attitudes change, healing happen and confidence, hope, and strength return. I would not continue to support, participate or volunteer my time if I did not believe in what i'm doing and experience the truth of it first hand. The changes and discoveries occur for all involved, staff and participants alike. There is just nothing like it.
My son Michael went on the float trip last year and he came home with the biggest smile and a great attitude. He cannot wait to go again this year. He talks about his experience almost everyday.
I thank River Discovery for what they have done for Michael and all the kids.
Summer of 2010 was probably one of the toughest times, if not the toughest, in my cancer journey. While my treatments and most of my surgeries were over, the emotional term-oil cancer would cause was only just beginning. Through out my fight I was in warrior mode. I was determined to beat this disease and leaving my young family behind wasn't an option. Once the fight was over and life started to get back to "normal" I found myself suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. All of the emotions that I refused to let in while in the heat of the fight came straight to the surface and all at once. It was so hard to sort through everything and it came on so quickly that I felt very overwhelmed and lost in my feelings. I felt like I went from a warrior to a scared child overnight.
River Discovery showed me that the scariest part was already over. I fought my battle and won so life could only get better from there. River Discover provided a structured and safe atmosphere where I could go outside of my comfort zone almost daily, face fears, and prove to myself that I could do anything I set my mind to. It showed me that although I had cancer, it didn't have me and things I used to be terrified of were nothing compared to the battle that I had already fought, and won.
I took rapids head on in an inflatable kayak (something I would have never done before), flipped the kayak, and swam the rapid. The fear of doing so is what kept me away from kayaks, yet once I faced it and lived through it, I came out the other side feeling empowered to face more fears.
I repelled down the side of a steep rock cliff and faced my huge fear of heights.
I went an entire week using a pack in/pack out toilet, soaping up while standing in the middle of a 5 gallon bucket, set up my own tent nightly, and lived with much less than I ever imagined possible.
I enjoyed some of the best meals I've ever had - all of which I didn't have to cook, clean up after, or prepare.
I enjoyed nature hikes and was astonished by the passion and knowledge the guiding company had for the river and the land. The history lessons alone would have made the trip great.
Finally, I met a group of amazing survivors both young and old, men and women, which inspired and encouraged me along the way. We were all from different walks of life and most of our paths would have never crossed had we not experienced this incredible journey together. I still keep in touch with many and I walked away with the realization that cancer is cancer. It doesn't matter what kind you had, you still connect and understand other survivors on a level that no one else can.
Thank you so very much for a once in a lifetime trip and a week long adventure that I will remember for the rest of my life!
I work on the Salmon River where the camp takes place. From my experience being on a rafting trip, I can only imagine what beauty and healing it brings to cancer survivors. Many organizations provide funds and services to those who are dealing with cancer, but clearly it is just as important to empower those who charge through their disease and give them a good foundation for the recovery process.
I through and through support this organization because the experiences that are provided for the attendants will last them for the duration of their lives. I know my adventures both playing and working on the Salmon have and will impact me for years to come.
I have served as medical director since the inception of River Discovery, and have participated in the Teen River trip the past two years. This is the most unique "Cancer Camp" experience that I am aware of. It is a true wilderness high adventure on the beautiful Salmon River, with all the challenges and opportunity for growth that this entails. This allows for individual and group growth through challenging outdoor physical encounters. Any other "cancer camp" that I'm aware of involves a fairly regimented activity schedule, and usually is based out of a central "camp" where campers stay in cabins. On River Discovery the camps are in a different spot along the river each night, with daily opportunities to navigate new whitewater rapids, swim, hike, climb, rappel, star gaze and so much more!
Review from Guidestar
I was recruited by a friend and colleague to volunteer as a nurse practitioner and mental health professioal for the adult trip in September 2009. Having written my Master's research project on the therapeutic effects of wilderness, I expected a good experience. The reality was, however, so much better that I had imagined. I felt kind of guilty by the end of the trip for having had such a good time! I felt personally renewed and reinvigorated, as if the windows of my mind, body and soul had just been opened to a refreshing breeze. I felt calm and alert and happy to be alive! The guides' expertise is blended with such a sense of fun that it is possible to truly and deeply relax at the same time that you are challenged by the river setting, knowing you are safe in their hands. We floated whitewater and flatwater, swam, hiked, fished, climbed, soaked in hot springs, laughed, ate great food, talked around the campfire and slept under the stars. I saw the participants come alive as they tried out new skills like paddling kayaks, or as they enjoyed well loved hobbies like photography. I saw them compare their scars from treatment and talk about losing their hair. I saw them face down what scared them and helped each other do the same. I saw them emerge victorious! It was beautiful and truly inspiring and I felt so grateful to be a part of it that I joined the Board to help make this experience possible for more people.
Review from Guidestar
Great people, great program leaders and an unbelievably beautiful and serene setting to clear your head, soak in the sun and see what adventures come from new friends and one of the best river canyons in Idaho. So much better than you'd ever imagine!
Review from Guidestar
From August 2005 through 2006 my husband Joe Tonsmeire was going through treatments for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. We both expereinced challenges firsthand, I am a breast cancer survivor and Joe lost his battle to cancer in March 2007. We spent many days and nights at St. Luke's Hospital in Boise, Idaho. The 4th Floor accommodated not only alults but also had a wing for children with cancer. After continually seeing these young people fighting for their battles, we couldn't help but want to do something for them. We started suppling their play room with a mosaic teacher and supplies so the kids would have something fun to look forward to. After a time we wanted to do more. We were longtime whitewater rafting outfitters and ranchers from Lemhi, Idaho. We envisioned an adventure program where participants addressed the emotional and physical challenges cancer survivors face after treatment. One thing lead to another and the organization has evolved into a river based program offer a 6-day rafting trips, one to teens and one for adults.
Review from Guidestar
Serving on the board for River Discovery has been a rewarding and eye-opening experience. This relatively new organization is made up of highly motivated board members (many of whom are health professionals and experienced river guides), staff, and volunteers providing a really valuable - and fun - wilderness experience for cancer survivors. When we, as the board, have read and heard the feedback from trip participants, the therapeutic effects and joy of having participated in this outdoor experience are reflected time and again. This board puts a lot of effort into planning, policy development, and fundraising efforts to make sure that the integrity of the trips provided continues to improve. It's been a real pleasure to be able to help make this happen. And we have fun doing it!
Review from Guidestar
My first connection with River Discovery was as a participant on one of their Salmon River adventures for cancer survivors in the summer of 2008. It was a phenomenal experience. The staff, the river guides, the whole process was a great transitional time for me. Experiencing the river with qualified individuals and other cancer survivors has had a great impact on me. I highly recommend anyone who recently, or even not so recently, experienced cancer to look into this week long adventure.
Review from Guidestar
River Discovery is a wonderful organization. They provide emotional as well as physical healing to cancer survivors. I have volunteered several times, and it warms my heart to watch their courageous clients receive a warm welcome, and a fundamentally life changing experience.
Review from Guidestar
River Discovery is a river rafting trip which serves a unique niche - adult cancer survivors and teen survivors (who travel with the parents.) This organization provides an Idaho raft trip for cancer survivors. Most of our group had recently completed treatment, so it was a particularly welcome relief to leave behind the daily medical grind and also the cell phones, e-mail.... We were able to focus on living. My son and I, both having undergone cancer recurrences in 2007, attended this trip in 2008. The River Discovery team is phenomenal, with a true love of the river and an appreciation for the environment and local lore. The outfitters provided top-notch equipment and phenomenal food including fresh fish, meat, vegetables and fruit. Our six days on the river involved idly riding the raft, the challenge of paddling a kayak thru the rapids, fishing and hiking, and exploring settlements and native American writing on the walls. After a personal loss to cancer, the River Discovery founders and board have succeeded in their goal of giving back by providing a unique experience for cancer survivors. It was apparent that this is a costly trip to outfit. The rafts, kayaks, camping gear and food not only need to be purchased and maintained, but also transported several hours to and from Salmon. I heartily endorse this nonprofit as worthy of your support.
Review from Guidestar