The following is an essay by “Roo-Roo”, a participant in the First Descents program at Wet Planet Whitewater Center. First Descents is a program that empowers cancer fighters and survivors to live beyond their diagnosis through kayak, climbing, and surf instruction. After the essay is Roo-Roo’s class in photos.
I just got back from a weeklong whitewater kayaking trip with First Descents, an organization that does outdoor programs for young cancer survivors. Before going, I knew I’d have fun and would find camaraderie with the other survivors there, but I don’t think I really fully anticipated what the week would end up meaning to me.
I’ve spent a lot of time since getting diagnosed being hyper aware of my body, with the constant fear of recurrence / metastasis humming in the background of my mind. This past week, I found myself really in the moment, focusing just on what was going on around me and what I was doing, and the days seemed to go by without the fear and anxiety that I’ve carried with me since November 2013 constantly bubbling up. I was able to channel some of the “fear perspective” that cancer has given me with some fun challenges of my own choosing – jumping off a cliff into a river; going over a waterfall in a raft; getting comfortable hanging out underwater, upside down, in a flipped kayak moving downstream. I got to embrace the feeling of failing (or at least not getting something right away), but being able to shake it off and know that I would get back up and try again.
And, I got to do all of that with some really amazing people. I got to share long conversations and a lot of laughs with a group of young cancer survivors who understood without having to explain, who have taken the experience of facing death at a young age and all the loss that comes with a cancer diagnosis and treatment and turned it into motivation to live life more fully. I got to know and be inspired by a group of staff members who choose to be a part of this community, which as incredible as it is can also come with a pretty heavy dose of loss and tragedy, and share something that they’re passionate about with a group of strangers with patience and encouragement.
The most unexpected piece for me though was how much the experience hit me with regard to where I want to go from here. I worked full-time and planned a wedding while going through treatment, and I felt like I just had to go on autopilot to get through it all. I’ve had more time to take a step back and reflect on things since I’ve finished treatment and feel like I’ve come to a bit of a crossroads in terms of what I want to do with my life, career, etc. I still don’t totally know what life from here on out is going to look like, but hearing the stories of all the people I met this week and having all the experiences that I did makes me feel one step closer to figuring it out.
Thank you all for the inspiration and one of the best weeks of my life.
First Descents takes a “day off” from kayaking and goes rafting on the White Salmon River