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!
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 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.
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!
I recently worked as a volunteer at a First Descents Kayak Camp for young adults with cancer. The very positive attitude, support, and encouragement seemed to provide a wonderful experience for campers and staff alike. I hope to volunteer again.
First descents was an incredible experience, both for me as a volunteer and for the participants. Looking back at the video of the week and comparing the first tentative wobbles of the participants as they entered the current for the first time and comparing that with the footage from the end of the week where the entire group aced Graduation Rapid is very moving to me and still brings tears to my eyes because I am so proud and blessed to know everyone that I met at FD. To watch people come out of their shell and go from being scared or intimidated to enjoying things and being playful with what once scared them was amazing (and the parallels to life are obvious there too...). I think kayaking is a great thing for cancer survivors because it is a great equalizer. In paddling gear everyone just looks like a kayaker. Way to go FD!
I have had the unique opportunity of working with First Descents since their 2nd year. I first was a fundraiser, then volunteer, director and ironically now cancer survivor! It is tough to put into words what First Descents does that other organizations cannot. FD gives a renewed hope and a sense of accomplishment that is robbed from some people that have had cancer. Cancer makes you realize the magnitude of which you rely on others....not just for self-definition....but mere existence! This camp taps into the inner core of each person who attends.....both camper and counselors alike. I can and have written long stories all about First Descents and what this camp is/can do! This place is a powerful and amazing experience that needs to be able to expand in order to touch lives of those who need it! I hope this helps scratch the surface of what an amazing camp this is.
After my first week as a volunteer at First Descents I almost felt guilty that I had taken away so much from my time at camp. I was supposed to be helping the participants, young adults with cancer aged 18-34, and they ended up changing my life. The participants arrived at camp and immediately jumped into the FD programming. Most campers arrived at camp ready for anything. Others were guarded, shy and not so sure about the whole kayaking as treatment program. The best part was that they all left empowered and ready to deal with whatever life had to hand them. They have inspired me to appreciate my life, not sweat the small stuff and most importantly, raise as much money for First Descents as possible. Over the past two years my husband has raised almost 200K for First Descents. Since my week at camp, I have taken on a number of admin. jobs for FD that I can do from my home in Maryland. All the volunteering I do for them is better than any sales commission that I have ever received. The feeling of giving back to this amazing organization is indescribable. The impact First Descents has on its participants is truly unbelievable. I feel lucky to be a part of the FD family.
First Descents was first brought to my attention in Vail, CO and I was an admirer from the sidelines. Little did I know it would be part of our daughter's experience a little over a year ago! Since then my husband and I volunteered at a hugely successful fund raiser, meeting the founders Brad and Corey who are totally committed and the coolest guys on the planet. FD was empowering, rewarding, a learning and teaching experience, humbling, and positive in a world which was being viewed negatively because of the cancer diagnosis.