Huffpost Healthy Living
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Erin Havel Headshot

Breaking Through Cancer Barriers With First Descents

Posted: Updated:
Print

As we drove from the Seattle city limits into the mostly tree populated part of Washington State, our options for radio station began to vanish. The scan button on the rented minivan's stereo receiver searched without landing on anything for a significant amount of time. Then suddenly we heard Dave Matthews singing his song "Stay": "Wasting time, let the hours roll by doing nothing for the fun. A little taste of the good life, whether right or wrong, makes us want to stay, stay, stay for awhile."

The song echoed my expectations for a weekend of rafting and kayaking down the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers with First Descents. A group of young adult cancer survivors, river guides, medical professionals and staff on a weekend getaway from the drudgery of an every day cancer existence, was being sponsored by the John Wayne Cancer Foundation in cooperation with First Descents and Seattle Children's Hospital.

First Descents is an organization that sets up surfing, climbing and kayaking trips to help empower young adult cancer survivors, both physically and emotionally, after being stripped of those confidences by cancer. I will admit I've known about First Descents for a few years, but I hadn't taken a trip because, even before cancer, I never considered myself sporty. The idea of cramming my steroid weighted, scarred body into a small boat with just myself to steer down a current driven river with rapids, sounded like a death wish. However, after much encouragement from an active First Descents participant, I decided to take the leap.

It's never a good time to get away as a young adult cancer patient. We are students, employees, newlyweds, parents, and often in active treatment. However, taking advantage of opportunities presented to me, when they are offered, is a lesson I am currently focused on learning. Our group was set up in a huge cabin in the woods complete with sheet fitted beds, warm showers, and an amazing kitchen. We each received nick names based on our personal stories, hobbies, or funny moments. Good food was provided, encouragement and limit testing was discussed, and good company was inevitable because we all had the rare common denominator of experiencing cancer as young adults.

What I loved about the program was that we were all in different stages of our cancer experience. Our actives were tailored to fit our abilities allowing none of us to feel less than or left out. I also greatly appreciated the physical support from staff who rafted beside us just incase we fell out of our vessel or needed assistance.

For me, the phrase "go with the flow" took on a whole new meaning when the current began pulling my small "duckie" kayak in circles. The entire experience was a good metaphor for cancer. We are still ourselves with our personalities encased in our bodies (or boat), but cancer pulls us like a river's current and we have to sort out how to navigate through the reeds and rapids. With rapids we have to continue to paddle through because if we stop we lose our balance, and our kayak (or self worth) is more apt to flip.

With each stroke of the paddle I allowed some confidence to build and the belief in myself to strengthen. By the end of the weekend I had developed new friendships, regained a bit more self assurance, and developed an openness to trying activities outside of my current comfort zone. Dave Matthew's "Stay" lyrics completed my weekend perfectly. "Wasting time, I shall miss these things when it all rolls by, what a day, wanna stay, stay, stay for awhile."

If you are a young adult cancer patient or survivor, I would highly recommend checking out a First Descents trip. Food and lodging are covered for you, the programs are amazing, and these adventures are one of the rare perks in an otherwise perceived perk-less cancer scenario. You may be surprised by the abilities and confidence you didn't know needed a little encouragement.

2013-06-11-FirstDescents.jpg

From Our Partners