Tag Archives: First Descents

Holding On

A few months ago, I went on a rock climbing expedition to Utah with First Descents (FD), an adventure camp for young adults with cancer. Part of what FD does is has you chose a nickname to separate yourself from the you that you’ve known (the you with cancer and all the emotional baggage that accompanies that).  I chose Sunny, for my sunny disposition.

I’ve always been the kind of person that seeks out the silver lining, sometimes to a fault, in less than ideal situations.  For example,  I would stay in a relationship because I swore that sometimes it was amazing and most of the time he was great, when really I should have packed it up and headed straight for the hills at the first sign of lunacy. OK, so I’ve been known to keep the sunshine search parties out long past the point of reasonable explanation, but mostly I’ve found it beneficial to look for the good in situations that seemed to lack all light.

That being said… I’m from the Midwest. And anyone from the Midwest knows that it truly isn’t sunny all the time. The weather literally changes on a dime and can be clear and sunshiney one minute and dark and tornado-y the next. Well, today was one of those days.

I was putting away the clean dishes when the storm hit. Thankfully I had the wherewithal to step away from the breakables, as I neither wanted to grieve the loss of an entire matching dish set nor clean it up later. The meltdown was desperate and loud and snotty and exhausting. There may have been screaming involved. I may have punched the couch, but it was totally his fault for standing so close.  You know what they say- don’t poke an angry tiger with a stick or you’ll get punched… surely someone has said that.

But breaking down is normal.  It’s healthy. Think about a shower. You go in there to scrub up and hose down. And when you’re done, the whole place is one steamy slice of smell-good.  Mwah!  But while you’re cleaning off, soap scum and lime buildup and eventually mildew are slowly taking over.  You have to get in there every once in a while with a brush and some cleaning agents, otherwise you’re really up a creek. For those of you who have ever seen a college guy’s shower, you know.  Having a meltdown is like cleaning the shower.  Once it’s done you can resume usage as normal. If you don’t scrub it regularly, then you really have a problem on your hands.

Anyway, I’m in the calm after the storm right now. It’s night time, so it’s not sunny yet, but it will be tomorrow. I’m holding on.

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First Descents

In October 2003, I was part of a team from City Year that organized the service project for the Outdoor Industry Association convention in Vail, Colorado.  At the banquet afterwards, I sat captivated as I listened to the amazing story told by our young keynote speaker.  He had done more selfless acts in his 22 years on this earth than most people do in a lifetime.  Being only 23 myself and doing some good of my own, I felt I had a right to feel shared pride with him. After his presentation, I waited for the crowd that swarmed him to settle.  I was one of the last people to approach him in the banquet hall and wanted only to congratulate him for his success in the non-profit world and tell him how great it is to see a 20something contributing to society and using his talents for good.  That short congratulatory message turned into a 3 hour conversation, which later turned into a friendship.

At age 18, Brad Ludden started a kayak camp in Colorado for young adults with cancer. First Descents has since grown to include surfing and rock climbing and now has programs all over the United States and even has a few in Central and South America (for more information on First Descents and to find out how to get involved, visit http://www.firstdescents.org).  Back in 2003, I thought the camp was a phenomenal idea and sounded like an absolute blast. My friendship with Brad was, of course, separate from his endeavors in the cancer world, but I followed the happenings of First Descents closely.  I had no idea then how it would later change my life.

When I first found out that I had cancer, Brad was the first person I called outside my own family.  We had not spoken in over 4 years, but he was as warm and supportive as ever.  He quickly connected me to a number of invaluable resources and, in the months that followed, despite his busy schedule, continued to be a source of support for me himself as I navigated my way through the chaos we commonly refer to as treatment.  He said that, without question, I was going to First Descents this summer.  I was ecstatic.

I just got back from the week-long FD program in Moab, Utah.  Yes, climbing and rappelling with such a breathtaking backdrop would have been enough to justify the smile that has not left my face since the trip. And yes, we ran through sprinklers and played Twister and did yoga in the park and sat in the hot tub every night and did karaoke in our lodge.  We laughed as a group more than I’ve laughed with any group of people in a really long time.  We sang in the van and around the camp fire and on the rock… we pretty much sang 90s hits everywhere you can imagine.  We gave creepy hugs and told jokes and pulled pranks and shared stories.  All of that was great, but none of it compares to the normalcy I felt for the first time since my diagnosis.  Everyone there understood. Everyone there had a scar and a memory. And that was our normal.

A weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and a big, giant THANK YOU goes out to Brad and everyone else that has helped First Descents stay alive.

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