Adventures for cancer survivors given by First Decents


first descents white water rafting
first descents group photo of young adult cancer survivors

Keeping a positive attitude that everything happens for a reason can be tough with cancer. This past year, as cancer has attempted to pull me back from staying strong, a trip with First Decents this summer pushed me forward. First Decents is an organization which leads a cancer survivor or fighter on a journey to "defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same." In order to accomplish this, First Decents offers adventures of kayaking, rock climbing and surfing... for free! First Decents gives those with cancer a chance to do something completely new and offers us what we couldn't imagine conquering with our past with cancer.Cancer came into my life when I was fifteen with a brain tumor that took over the entire left side of my brain. When I was 18, the tumor grew and after my freshman year of college at the University of Michigan, I had an 11-hour surgery; three of which I was wide awake and quizzed to test my memory. Twelve bitter-sweet months of chemotherapy followed. While going through chemotherapy during my sophomore year of college, I found out about First Decents from a brain tumor support group I was a part of at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. Hearing about First Decents instantly gave me the chance to try something new. Right away, I chose kayaking in Massachusetts and started counting down the days until July 22.When I arrived at First Decents, what we all had in common was cancer. More than that, as the week went on we all grew closer with the new journey we were tackling. We all went by various nicknames based on a part of our personality, not our normal names. I was the youngest, so my nickname was "Baby." There were ages 19 to 38 from all over the country, from Washington to Maine! We all had types of cancer at different times in our lives and cancer survivors recognize each other. We found humor in the medicine and treatment we receive, entertainment in our hospital stories, understanding in the difficulties cancer can put in our day to day life, and we gained hope for ourselves as we interacted with others. We were taught by a few wonderful trainers from Zoar Outdoor Recreation in Charlemont. The first day of kayaking brought me dread when I realized that we first had to learn flipping upside down and getting out of the strap holding you in the kayak. As we were learning how to flip, a survivor in the group found humor in that we fighters were strong enough to battle cancer but found fear in flipping over in a kayak. I was one of the terrified ones to flip over in the kayak and release underwater! After conquering the fear of flipping over, we moved on to learning techniques and played games. Half way through the week, white water rafting for 10 miles was accomplished. We ended the week with two days of kayaking, hitting rocks, tipping over, getting soaked and feeling awesome.My first year of First Decents gave me hope that even though cancer can feel like it is pushing you back, cancer actually pushes you towards the new possibilities life still offers. Cancer makes you braver, more willing to take on what is daunting and difficult. A reason to go on a First Decents trip is to tackle a fear that is not confined in a doctor's office and use the bravery cancer has taught you. Joana McKeoun is a junior English major at the University of Michigan. She is a survivor surviving cancer.

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