It was only 3 short years ago that one FD experience was brought to the Columbia River Gorge. This one camp grew to two camps and the local support from businesses and paddlers grew, impressively!
To write about the FD experience in only a few short paragraphs is challenging for me. But I will try.
First of all, First Descents is a kayaking experience for cancer survivors. Some of these campers are still in treatment, while others have been ‘cancer-free’ for a few years. Whether they are currently being treated or have completed their treatments, at some point or another they’ve all been through the same emotions, fears, and challenges. It doesn’t matter what kind of cancer it is, when you hear the word “cancer” . . . well, that’s scary enough!
The goal of each FD camp is to create an experience outside of their normal lives. One way in which we do this is with nicknames. Each camper either comes with a nickname, or is given one by another camper. I’ve been given the name, “Mrs. Robinson”, because I married someone 4 years younger then me! J
As I reflect back on the 2 FD camps that I was fortunate to be a part of, there are two things that stand out:
1. Young cancer survivors are stronger than any professional athlete I know. Athletes have all their life to train to be in the top of their sport. Ever since I’ve been a part of the FD experience, I have been convinced that the strength of these cancer survivors is so much greater, and they don’t even have the time to “train” for dealing with the cards given to them. Listening to their stories of treatment and recovery; seeing campers throw-up all day from current treatment, yet continue to kayak and participate; and, talking with campers about their challenges, puts many things in my life in perspective. Cancer victims have only a short time to make life decisions. “What if this treatment doesn’t work”, “what treatment do I even try?” . . . these are questions that plague the mind when standing face to face with cancer.
Imagine, just for a moment, that the phone rings and your doctor on the other end says, “Don’t even bother coming to see me, your MRI results are at the hospital, go directly there!” Then, when you get to the ER, you don’t wait one second and you’re directed to the back and thrown into a robe for surgery! Then, when you wake up from the surgery, you cannot see. That takes strength to deal with . . .
2. Inspire others . . . Another thing that I have walked away with from being a part of FD and hearing the amazing stories from the campers, is: “Live to inspire!”. I hear many cancer survivors say, “what can I do to give back”. Every single one of my FD family has inspired me in different ways. They have inspired me to ‘give back’. The world is so much larger than the box we call ‘our lives.’ Open up your box and help create an amazing experience for someone else.
At the end of each camp, I find myself saying, “This was the best camp yet!” But, then find that each camp leaves its’ impression on me just as strongly as the camps before! I leave many of these experiences thinking to myself, “These campers have helped change my life more than I’ve helped change theirs!”
I cannot wait until 2012 . . .
For more information about “First Descents” and how you can be involved, please visit http://firstdescents.org/. And, stay tuned for “Girls of the Gorge’ becoming part of Team FD and continuing to raise money and challenge ourselves for a cause we truly admire and believe in.