11/26/2012 12:38 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2013

Finding Meaning Through Adventure for Young Adults With Cancer

We've probably all read the famous quote by Honest Abe, "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." And while there's no substitute for another day, there's also nothing more important than living that day with intention.

Throughout my own life, I've put meaning into my days by facing real challenges because in challenge I'm reminded of just how alive I am. Life's meaning can elude us; in my experience it hides at the tops of peaks, on rock walls, in the middle of rapids, in sunsets with friends after a long day of surfing and in the stillness of the present moment. In other words, it doesn't always come to us, rather we have to leave the comfort of all we know and seek it.

The time frame to experience this life is waning whether we're aware of it or not. This year alone, 72,000 young adults in the U.S. will be slapped in the face with this reality when they're diagnosed with cancer.

This diagnosis typically comes at a time when life is often sweet and our awareness of our mortality is the furthest thing from our minds. Instead, we're asking ourselves how we're going to buy our first house, find our soul mate, raise our families and save for retirement; all questions that quickly leave our minds and are replaced by questions like, "Will I survive, how will I pay for this, do I tell my date I have cancer, will I need to move back in with my parents, am I alone and how am I going to regain my life?" For young adults, cancer comes with a host of unique psychosocial challenges and these challenges make it even more important to seek life, meaning and purpose, to reclaim it from cancer and to define your days by living on your terms.

And that's when they find First Descents -- a program built for, and free to, young adults (18 - 39) with cancer. The irony that a potentially life-threatening diagnosis becomes the catalyst to seek life beyond it is not lost on them, which is why First Descents is so impacting. Through a legitimate outdoor challenge, these young adults are empowered to reclaim life from a disease that threatened to take it. That reclamation happens on rock walls, river rapids and the faces of waves and is symbolic as much as it is literal. By that I mean that regardless of their prognosis or diagnosis, these young adults discover an unforgettable and intentional life, they realize their strength and find a community deeply and strongly bonded all because they were diagnosed with cancer. In my eyes, this is a victory over cancer that will forever be theirs.

Since founding First Descents, I've often been asked, "What do you get out of this?" The answer is easy, I am given the amazing reminder that cancer seems to dole out liberally; a reminder that life is fleeting and we all have an obligation to get off our asses and embrace it before it's gone. In the coming days you too will be rewarded and inspired to do the same as you read stories from our peers about their challenges with and victories over cancer. I hope you're enlivened by their words, ignited by their courage and inspired to go find that challenge or overcome that obstacle that further defines your life.