Welcome to the FD Family! We hope you are excited about your first FD experience. As you check off the items on your packing list, we know you may have some questions that go beyond what to pack in your suitcase. We asked our alums what they were concerned about prior to their first camp – and what they learned. Here are their answers and advice for you.
If you don’t find an answer to your question, we have a handful of alums who are excited to talk with you at any point (just e-mail Paul.Kelly@firstdescents.org with subject “Alum Buddy”) and we will put you in touch with someone who can help you out.
ADVICE FROM OUR ALUMS TO A NEW PARTICIPANT
1. Don’t worry- everyone will be extremely excited, supportive, and accommodating.
2. You are about to undertake an adventure that may very well change your life.
3. Try to get to know everyone right away, most people will be a bit anxious about this new situation, but that will fade FAST at FD!
4. First Descents does not facilitate therapy sessions during the programs- if conversations happen between individuals or as a group, it happens organically, but they do not have any formal therapy sessions.
5. Embrace the unknown, trust the FD process and progression, it works!
6. Be prepared for camp withdrawal after you get home. Text message is your friend. Ask your program staff to connect you to any alum in your home area.
Q: I get this pack sheet and I can’t even figure out what some of the items are let alone afford to buy it. Cancer treatments are expensive. I am embarrassed to say that I can’t afford to buy most of what is on there. Maybe I shouldn’t go.
A: You do not need to buy all of the stuff on the list- most folks won’t have all of it. The guiding companies will provide it. The packing list is a suggestion. If you can just match up the best you can to what you have in your closet, that is all you need. Headquarters staff can help you figure it out. No one needs to know.
Q: What should I do if I’m nervous/anxious about committing to a week with people I don’t know, doing an activity/sport I’ve never done, in a place where I’ve never been before?
A: Everyone is nervous, everyone is wondering what to expect. This is a new experience on a lot of levels, but GET ON THE PLANE, it will change your life. The FD culture is all about compassion and kindness, they aren’t going to throw you into the river and hope it works. The staff are professionals at their sport, but they will meet everyone at their individual level, even if the group comes with different levels of experience. Everything starts from scratch. Beyond that, this week is about you. The chefs will make your food, the moms will do the dishes, the outfitters will make you feel safe, your fellow participants will support you, and all you have to do is show up and have fun.
Q: What type of people am I going to meet?
A: People from all areas of the country, all walks of life. The people I met were some of the best people I’ve ever encountered in my life. They are like a 2nd family. Seriously, we are so close and we communicate with each other all the time. They are some of the first people I tell about my doctor visits and successes in my life.
Q: Am I strong enough to do these sports? Is everyone going to be super fit and strong except me?
A: Yes you will be able to do it, it all starts from scratch, baby steps, just like any new challenge. The outfitters will start with the basics and slowly move forward.
Not everyone is going to be a superhero athlete. There are individuals of all fitness and athletic levels in every program. Campers are at a variety of levels of treatment and ability level (small, big, tall, short, healthy, not healthy). Many people are just finding their new bodies. No one expects wonders to happen. If you find that you absolutely cannot kayak, rock climb, or surf, the staff will do everything possible to help you still have the best experience you can!
Q: Will I be safe? I just need some extra reassurance.
A: There is always risk in taking adventures. However, the risks are minimized as much as possible. All camps have instructors that are trained extensively in their discipline. There will also be a medical staffer who has at least an EMT certification. No one will be forced to do something he or she cannot do or does not feel comfortable doing. If the staff believes your safety will be compromised, they will make accommodations to do what they can to make you safe. First Descents keeps safety as the #1 priority.
I would encourage 1st time campers to trust that the FD staff and outfitters are extremely experienced and 100% committed to your safety. They will be watching you even when you don’t realize they are watching you. They will make sure that you are in a situation that they are more than comfortable with, and you can be confident that even if you are scared, it is safe.
Q: Do I have to talk about my feelings?
A: No way- this is totally up to you.
Q: Is it OK to ask people what type of cancer they have/had?
A: Definitely. This usually happens very quickly on the first day.
Q: Are we going to spend a lot of time talking about cancer?
A: That is up to you, but it does come up casually. We talked about our experiences and our treatments, and overall medical experiences (many times in a humorous overtone), how our cancer affected our personal lives with family, friends, etc. But we all had an unwritten common bond, and many times there were things that just went unsaid because there was a common understanding that we’d all been through the same thing. We spent much of our time just getting to know each other on a very personal level. I think when you are around people that have such bravery and courage and have gone through this whole cancer thing, your guard just drops. For once, we weren’t “the friend that had/has cancer or the family member with cancer” we were just ourselves and there was a lot of freedom in that.
Q: Will people think something is wrong with me?
A: One of the biggest questions I had was this crazy idea that I was the only one dealing with major depression and an overall feeling of being stuck and lost. What I found (other than confirming I was crazy in a good way) was that I wasn’t alone – there were tons of other people in very similar situations dealing with exactly the same issues as I was… and this was after I’d spent a year and a half convincing myself that I must be the only one dealing with this.
Q: Will I be able to “unplug” from my life (technology, work stress, family stress) ?
A: As soon as I arrived, I knew that it would be so easy to unwind. When I saw the environment and met the people, I wanted to soak up every minute of the experience. It was one of the greatest weeks of my life. Everything is taken care of, so all you have to do is have fun, relax and hang out. It’s like adult summer camp, but way better.
Q: May I bring my pet to a program?
Pets are not allowed at our programs. This includes the use of Emotional Support Animals – the ONLY exception are Guide Dogs (seeing eye dogs) for blind participants. This situation must have been pre-arranged with the Programs team.
Q: What should I expect at programs for food/meals?
A: You can read all about our program nutrition here!
Q:Is alcohol allowed at these programs?
A: We feel that these experiences are fun enough without the need for additional substances and as such FD programs are drug/alcohol free.