Your Results Are Positive: The 90 Second Phone Call That Changed My Life

FullSizeRender (7)When I woke up on the morning of April 9th, 2015, I immediately called my doctor’s office to see if my results were available. They weren’t. I puttered around at my table until the phone rang at 12:14 pm. It was my OBG. My heart was pounding out of my chest as I answered the phone. She wasted no time delivering the scariest, arguably worst, news of my life. In under 90 seconds, I’d been diagnosed with cancer. My innocence was shattered in a matter of seconds. The color in my face was first to go, followed by the life-force draining out of my body. I was light headed and in fight or flight. Time was standing still. Blinking my eyes several times, I wondered: had I heard her correctly? Shaking, confused and bewildered, I called my boyfriend Doug and whispered into the phone, “my results are positive for breast cancer.” He asked, “you’re joking?”

Two weeks prior I was lying in bed feeling my sore and swelling breasts as my period approached when I found a grape sized lump on my right side. I was unconcerned and scheduled my slightly overdue annual. My OBG did not appear worried stating statistics were in my favor and what I felt was likely a fibroadenoma. She wrote me a script for a mammogram and prepared me for the possibility of an ultrasound. She encouraged me not to worry and sent me on my way after I shelled out $165 for a less than 15-minute appointment. When Doug offered to go with me to my next appointment, I confidently thanked him for offering and assured him I’d be fine–women get mammograms all the time. As Vivian in Pretty Woman said, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.” Regrettably, it was my mistake, and there was no shopping spree to follow.

I suppose I was slightly nervous about the unknown, but after squeezing both my breasts pretty hard to simulate the pain potential of said x-ray, I reasoned I’d be okay. My experiment proved fruitful, and I did not experience pain that some women speak of after having a mammogram. During my exam, I tried to read the tech’s face while she was taking images of my breasts. Nothing. Her poker face was solid. Once she had taken all the pictures she needed, I retreated to the waiting room to learn the radiologist wanted to get an ultrasound. At this point, even though my doctor had prepared me, I started to panic. As the tech scanned my breasts, I carefully watched her body language in another attempt to determine what she was seeing. Striking out again, I waited on the table, feeling exposed, for the tech to come back in and tell me the radiologist wanted to do a needle biopsy. The doc was only in on Monday and Tuesday, and it was Tuesday. I could either have the biopsy right then and there or come back next week.

Waiting another week for results sounded like torture, so I opted to have the biopsy on the spot. The techs mouths were moving, but what they were saying didn’t register. Were they talking to me? I found myself answering yes and no as I dialed Doug. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to have him there with me. Why did I go alone? As I was on the phone, the techs were shoving papers in front of me to sign. Did they know I wasn’t present? Physically I was sitting in the exam room in a chair, but no one was home. Could someone please slow down to make sure I know what’s happening? I had no idea what I was agreeing to or not. During the call to Doug, the techs told me my procedure would be over before he arrived.

They treated this outpatient procedure as no big deal, and I’m confident saying neither of them had ever had one. As my friend and GiveForward co-founder, Desiree Vargas so eloquently put: “Biopsies are not “mammograms with a needle.” The best way I know how to explain what it feels like, beyond Desiree’s account, is it’s like having dental work performed [on your boob]. It’s not that the pain is excruciating, but it is terribly uncomfortable and awkward. Upon completion of the biopsy, I was told the radiologist surgically inserted a piece of titanium into the biopsied lump. Wait a second! Did anyone inform me this was going to happen? I’m not sure I want titanium in my body. It was too late.

Once the biopsy was over, tears streamed down my face. I felt violated, scared and alone. The pain was over, but I was shocked, confused and in a world of fear. The techs said I was strong. A phrase I’d become very familiar hearing over the upcoming months. They said a lot of women did a lot worse than I did. So… Couldn’t they have waited ten minutes for my boyfriend to get there for a little moral support, well aware this procedure left people feeling uneasy? Instead, as a consolation prize, they sent me on my way with the cutest little pink heart ice pack.

With the heart tucked into my bra to alleviate pain and swelling, I somehow found myself at my boyfriend’s staring out the kitchen window aimlessly as I dialed one of our friend’s who had been through breast cancer twice. I put on my best “everything is fine” voice and left a message. She texted me back later, “Honestly, they are so proactive with any kind of spot they find, just about everyone I know has had a needle biopsy.” I wanted to believe this so badly, but something about the radiologist’s demeanor left me lacking confidence that everything was going to be fine. Doug also assured me I’d be okay. I wanted to believe them both and did my best to manifest a positive outcome. Totally I thought, attempting to convince myself and block the radiologist’s cold and disconcerting bedside manner out of my head. I’d be fine. I had completed another 100-day ski season, been upping my yoga, decreasing my sugar, and was what appeared to be a very healthy young woman. Of course, I’d be fine.

Two days later my doctor called, “I’m sorry, your results are positive for breast cancer.” She asked me if I needed anything. If I needed anything? I needed my results to be negative. She asked me if I was going to be okay. Okay? No, I’m not okay. Cancer? At 33? Are you kidding me? We hung up. In less than 90 seconds, I received information that would forever change my life.

IMG_4844Carly Hana (Lotus) Przysinda grew up in Rochester, NY and currently resides in Vail, CO where she enjoys skiing, mountain biking and hiking. Prior to living in the mountains she lived in Boulder, Denver, NYC, Chicago and South Florida. Lotus attended her first FD white water kayaking program this summer in Jackson, WY after being diagnosed with IDC triple negative breast cancer on April 9, 2015. She chose an integrative healing path and has avoided surgery and radiation. As a nutritionist, Lotus opted to incorporate a mind, body and spirit approach to healing and encourages others to do the same regardless of what treatment path they’ve chosen. Follow Lotus on her blog at

Please ask me how I’m doing (not how I’m feeling)

Please ask me how I’m doing (not how I’m feeling)

Next time you see me, email me, text me, yell at me from across the street, bump into me at the grocery store I have a favor to ask. Please, pretty please, do not ask me how I am feeling. In particular I would appreciate it if you didn’t squish up your face, cock your head to the side, raise your voice two pitches and add ten extra Es to the word feeling: “How are you feeeeeeling?”

I know the intentions behind it are only good. I know you are concerned about me. I appreciate your concern. I appreciate you reaching out. I want to connect with you. I want to tell you what’s going on in my life. Battling Stage 4 cancer (or any stage of cancer for that matter) can be a lonely life and I want you to be a part of it. But this question hurts my heart, wears down my spirit and makes me feel less connected to you. So let me try and explain why that is and what you can ask instead so we can have that meaningful moment that I hope and believe we are both craving.

You see, I not only spend a good amount of time every day fighting for my life, I am also fighting every day to feel really alive. I hate days when I get even a mild cold because it makes me feel weak when all I really want to feel is strong. Strength and wellness give me hope. Illness and weakness make me feel like I’m dying. Any reminder that I am not the strong, healthy, vibrant person that I work so hard to be is like a dagger in my back. “How are you feeling?” is just one of those reminders.

You see, I am fortunate enough to be on a protocol made up mostly of immunotherapies which come with little to no side effects so most days I actually do feel pretty good. In fact, if I didn’t have cancer I would bet that I would look like one of the healthier people you know. Every morning I wake up and meditate for 30 minutes. Then I do Qi Gong for 20 minutes. I follow that by taking a bunch of vitamins and drinking a part green, part protein shake. Then I’ll usually do about 30 minutes of yoga or go for a quick run before I get ready for the day. Throughout the day I eat a lot of veggies, drink more green drinks, avoid processed food, meat and dairy and try to drink plenty of water and herbal tea. I end every day with more Qi Gong and another 30 minutes of meditation. And over and over again, from the moment I rise until the moment I go to sleep I repeat the same mantra: “I am healthy. I am well. I’m alive. I will survive.” All of these things help me to feel healthy and strong and alive, which, in turn, makes me feel safer in a world that is trying to convince me that I might not “make it.”

When you come along and ask me how I feel in an instant I go from feeling like a super powered, cancer butt kicking badass warrior woman who deserves your support and admiration to a sad, sick person who only deserves your pity. You don’t ask Superman how he’s feeling, unless he’s just had a bad run in with some kryptonite. You ask Batman about his latest nemesis, not what bumps and scratches he got in his last fight. And for that matter you wouldn’t ever ask a healthy human being how they are feeling. You would ask them how they are doing. “Doing” is active. It implies that the person at the other end of the question has some active agency in their life. “Feeling” is passive, and it automatically implies weakness and illness.

When someone asks me how I feel it makes me feel like less of a human. It makes me feel less alive. It makes me feel like despite all of my hard work to be alive, to engage in life, to be as healthy as I possibly can be that I am still just my cancer. My experience with First Descents, just two weeks after I finished my first year of treatment, was the first experience since my diagnosis that reminded me that I am more than my cancer. I am a rock climber! I am a challenge accepter! I am strong! I am powerful! I am brave! Cancer is a part of my life but it does not define me.

But you are worried about me and I get that. I appreciate it even. As I said, I want to connect with you as much as you want to connect with me, probably more so. So, if you want to know about my life here are some questions I’d love to hear:

  • How are you doing?
  • What’s the most exciting thing going on in your life right now?
  • What’s making you feel really proud right now?
  • What’s the best lesson you’ve learned recently?
  • What have you been pondering most as of late?
  • What’s the toughest challenge you’ve faced lately?

These questions acknowledge that I am a human being, experiencing a full, complete and engaging life and that there is much more going on than just cancer. And even if the answer to some of these questions are cancer related at least they leave space for the conversation to be about something else. Sometimes I want to talk about cancer and sometimes I just want to be seen as a regular person. And if I talk to you about the challenges and difficulties that cancer has brought I want to do it from the perspective that we are on the same level, that we are both humans who have gone through suffering as part of the basic human experience. “How are you feeling?” almost always feels as if it’s being shouted from a pedestal of healthiness down to sad, little, old, sick feeling me. I can’t connect to you when you are so far above me.

So this holiday season as you go home to friends and family if you have someone who has been dealing with cancer or any other kind of illness think about the ways that you can connect with them in a way that is empowering to them. Remember that their lives are not limited to their illness and they are still active participants in the world with lots of interesting thoughts to share. All you have to do is ask the right question.


Dating After Cancer

DATING AFTER CANCER | By Susan “Hawk” Rafferty

About a year after my initial ovarian cancer diagnosis, I was finished with treatment and decided that my “new normal” should also include dating. As an introvert, I have always found dating to be unnerving, but doing so as a recent cancer survivor seemed terrifying. I was very thankful that, through FD, I had a great community of fellow survivors to whom I could reach out about my many concerns: Would anyone want to date me with the high probability of recurrence? Would anyone want to date me with my short hair, scars and lack of fertility (or depending on the guy, would that be a point in my favor?)? What do I share about my cancer experience and when do I share it? After major surgery and chemotherapy, does my body even work the same? After several great conversations with fellow single survivors on the perils of dating after a cancer diagnosis, I decided that I would handle it the way I handle most things in my life- I would wing it!

I was pretty surprised when I quickly met a very good looking, smart, interesting guy who also had a dog. We seemed to enjoy each other’s company and started dating very casually. After he saw pictures of me with longer hair, he asked why I decided to cut it. I took a deep breath and said something along the lines of, “yeah, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year, but I am ALL GOOD now. Totally healthy. No big deal….just short hair and a really big scar. I’m super lucky, but ready to get on with my life”, which I most likely followed up with a few tired clichés about all the awesome things I learned on my journey, something sarcastic, and a big smile. He commended me on my great attitude and that was that.

A few weeks later, I started feeling really tired again, and a blood draw and CT- scan revealed that my CA-125 was on the rise (which is bad), and that I had new tumor growth. The doctor explained that, “if the cancer is back this soon after finishing chemotherapy, you are either platinum resistant, and your condition would be considered terminal OR, the tumors are benign and you are fine. We’ll know more when we do your surgery in six weeks”. When on a walk with our dogs, I casually mentioned that I needed more surgery because a scan revealed some new tumors. He stopped, looked at me and said in a very serious and not at all amused tone, “I thought you said you were fine?!”. Oops. Yes, that is exactly what I said. Needless to say, things quickly fizzled.

When I told my friends about his reaction, most said “he’s a jerk”, or “you’re better off knowing now that he’s not supportive”, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. I misled him by seriously downplaying my cancer experience. Everyone has their own relationship with cancer, and I don’t fault someone for not wanting to embark on a new relationship with someone who has or had cancer. In hindsight, I downplayed it to about the seriousness of a bad case of the flu.  I realized that I needed to be much more thoughtful about how and what I share when telling someone about my experience with cancer and that it needs to have some semblance in the reality of what actually happened. It was a good lesson to learn. While my story is my own, and it is up to me with whom and what I share, I need to be very thoughtful and balanced about what I tell someone I am dating.

Several months later, and after a surgery that thankfully revealed “borderline” tumors, I met and began dating someone else. After a few dates, and when I felt comfortable, I braced myself and told him about my experience with cancer. I was much more forthright, and I didn’t downplay the significant role that cancer had and was still playing in my life. I was more than a little shocked when he didn’t seem fazed by it.   In fact, he was very supportive. Although that relationship eventually ran its course, it was such a gift to see that there are people who are not scared off by a cancer diagnosis. I have learned to be more careful and thoughtful about what I share with the person I am dating. As time has passed, I am getting better about letting my guard down and really sharing the impact.


fd Susan aka “Hawk” is a member of the First Descents Alumni Advisory Board, an avid roller hockey player, lover of traveling and the outdoors, and a champion for rescue dogs (she has fostered dozens and is mom to two Great Danes). After being diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer and completing treatment, Susan attended her first FD Rock Climbing Camp in Estes Park, CO in the fall of 2010, and has attended several programs since.

FD Healthy: Sugar & How it Affects Our Bodies!

Fruit Harvest Selection in Bowls

Fruit Harvest Selection in Bowls

The human body needs carbohydrates (also known as sugar) to stay healthy, this is a fact. We have evolved to naturally crave high sugar food as a survival mechanism; our early ancestors depended on sugar-rich fruits to not only give them an immediate energy supply, but to also assist in fat storage so they could continue to have an energy source when food was scarce.

This craving for sugar that was once depended on for survival, is now playing a key role in rising levels of obesity, type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease, not to mention dozens of smaller ailments involving kidneys, joints, skin and more. This is because the amount of sugar we consume has increased so drastically that our bodies are no longer equipped to process it. To give you some numbers:

  • In 1822 Americans consumed an average of 45 grams of sugar every five days, or the amount of sugar in one can of coke.
  • In 2012, Americans consumed an average of 756 grams of sugar every five days, that’s 130 pounds of sugar a year.

This is a huge growth that translates to major stress on our bodies and their abilities to function properly, and we need our bodies to function properly in order for us to fight off disease and illness (like cancer!).

There are many types of sugars and alternative sweeteners that we have developed over the years, but here I want to focus on the ones found most often in our food: glucose and fructose. These two molecules are the base of most of the sugars we use, particularly in processed foods. All carbohydrates break down into sugar in the body, that includes all grains and grain products (breads, pasta, rice, oatmeal, etc.). This is not to say that all carbohydrates are bad, as mentioned before, we need them to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This is just to emphasize that all carbohydrates, whether from grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, milk or processed sugars, break down into simple sugars (glucose, fructose, & lactose) in the body.
Sugar blog 1Glucose

Glucose molecules are absorbed through the small intestine directly into the bloodstream. From there the glucose molecules attach to insulin molecules and after a small portion is stored in muscles and the liver immediate use, the rest is transported into all of a body’s cells (all cells require glucose). This presence of glucose in the bloodstream is what determines our blood sugar level. If it is too high or low, our body cannot function; therefore we have insulin to regulate that level. Unfortunately insulin is only equipped to deal with a certain level of glucose, and the amount of sugar we consume on a daily basis tends to be beyond what insulin can handle. When insulin is triggered too often by the presence of sugar, it either responds less accurately or stops responding all together. This means we have high blood sugar, and no way for that sugar to get disbursed to its proper organs and cells, a problem that then causes type II diabetes (insulin resistant diabetes).

Another important interaction is when glucose gets transported to our cells, because although our cells require glucose, the amount they require to function is very minimal. When we consume more sugar than we need, the body has no immediate use for it, so our cells will store it as fat for future use. However, we rarely will need to use those fat stores for energy because we continue to consume sugar and the process starts all over again. Human cells have an amazing ability to store as much fat as we can give them, the cell walls will just keep expanding as long as they need to. Unfortunately, once sugars are turned into fat, it becomes very difficult to get rid of them again since those are the last stores of energy your body will try to use. It usually requires a long, high-intensity workout to use up all the sugar stored in your liver and muscles and to then tap into those fat stores.

sugar blog 3This cycle of insulin release and fat storage only happens when we eat carbohydrates, not when we eat protein or fat. In fact, when we consume carbs with protein, fat and/or fiber, it actually slows down the rate at which glucose is converted to blood sugar. This is why naturally occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables are better than processed sugars, because they come with built in fiber supplies, as well as vitamins and minerals.


The other most common form of sugar is fructose. Where glucose can be metabolized by insulin from the pancreas, fructose can only be metabolized by the liver. The problem with this is the liver is a busy organ and gets overwhelmed when too much fructose is present. If it can’t properly process the amount of sugar ingested, globules of fat will begin to grow within the liver and can eventually cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cirrhosis. When your pancreas and liver are in overdrive, the stress causes the whole body to become inflamed and not function properly.

Fructose is found naturally in fruit, but with fruit you are also consuming fiber, as well as various vitamins and minerals. The fiber will slow down the metabolizing of sugar so that it is at a level the liver can handle, and the vitamins and minerals are beneficial for your overall health. Keep in mind this is good when fruit is consumed in moderation. Too much fruit consumption will still negatively affect the liver. Dried fruit is a slippery slope because without the bound water found in fresh fruit, it is easier to consume large amounts of it. For example, if you are eating fresh apricots, you may eat one or two, but with dried apricots you may eat eight or ten in a sitting. That is a lot of sugar with none of that bound water that is beneficial for digesting the sugar. The USDA recommends eating 2-3 servings of fresh fruit a day.

Sucrose (table sugar) and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

Although glucose and fructose have varied properties and are metabolized differently, they are most often found together in sugars & sweeteners. What makes these sweeteners different is the amount of glucose vs. fructose found in each one. The chart below shows a basic breakdown of how much each molecule is found in our most commonly used sweeteners. Notice that sucrose (table sugar, what we are most familiar with), honey, and HFCS are all very similar in molecular make up, meaning our bodies process them in similar ways.

Just to be clear, the 50/50 ratio of glucose/fructose in table sugar also goes for cane sugar, raw cane sugar, powdered sugar and brown sugar, so simply trading out the amount of ‘high fructose corn syrup’ or ‘sugar’ in our grocery cart with the same amount of ‘raw cane sugar’ or ‘honey’ is not going to greatly alter the effects of our sugar intake. The overall consumption of all sugars and sweeteners should be lowered, and although I personally believe honey and raw cane sugar to be better choices based on their lack of processing, that doesn’t mean it is healthy to eat large amounts of them. Sugars off all kinds should be eaten in limited moderation.

sugar blog 5










Bio PicMy FD name is Kitchen Ninja (Kinja). I am from Auburn, AL. I graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a Bachelors in Culinary Nutrition. I am currently Sous Chef at Linger in Denver. My passion is creating nutritious food for others and spreading knowledge of health through food and cooking.


FD Healthy: It’s Root Veggie Season!

Know Your Roots!

I realized summer was winding to an end as I started to see yellow school busses and a few fallen leaves.  Top ten lists of the signs of autumn are beginning to appear sighting all those warm fuzzy things we love like football season, autumn colors, crisp air and pumpkin spice everything.  

But here’s what I’m thinking…peak season for root vegetables!

Ok, so maybe most people don’t’ get as excited about rutabagas and parsnips as they do about pumpkin spiced lattes.  Let’s face it, root vegetables can be intimidating, gnarly and strange looking, with a reputation of tasting like dirt.  But, don’t run for the hills yet, keep reading for some inspiration to embrace these outcast vegetables.  Not only are they super rich in nutrients, they are also versatile in the kitchen and taste amazing when prepared well.


image2Health Benefits of Root Vegetables

Root veggies are packed with nutrients because they grow under the ground and absorb lots of good stuff from the soil.  Each variety has it’s own special benefits, so mix it up and try lots of different ones!  These  beauties also have complex carbohydrates and fiber to keep you fueled for activity, feeling full and regulate blood sugar for steady energy.



How to shop for your roots

A farmers market is a great place to find cool varieties of these seasonal oddities, but many of the more familiar roots like beets, carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes are available year round at any supermarket.  Look for firm roots that feel dense.  If they have stems and leaves attached they should be fresh looking and not wilted.


image1 (2)Types of Root Veggies

The more commonly available root veggies are beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, radishes, onions and garlic. A few other fun ones to try are kohlrabi, celery root and yucca.

But how do I cook them?

Ah, the most important question!  You can’t get all those health benefits if you don’t know how to tame the knobby looking thing into something tasty.

Steaming is an excellent way to prepare many root vegetable as it tends to retain the most nutrient content.  It’s a great method for beets and carrots.  You can also steam roots for mashing like rutabega and parsnips. Puree with a touch of good olive oil and sea salt for a combination that will make your mashed potatoes jealous.

Roasting produces an excellent concentrated flavor.  You can combine an assortment of root veggies. Just be sure to cut them about the same size. Toss in a little bit of oil and season with salt and pepper and some hearty herbs such as rosemary or thyme.  Using a higher temperature in your oven (450) will produce nice caramelization and make them even tastier.

Saute or stir fry thin slices of root veggies for a quick and easy fix.  When combining with other veggies, add the roots to the pan first because they take longer to cook.

Grilling is also an option.  Brush thin slices with oil and seasoning for a nice smokey flavor.  

My Fave Roots!

I love celery root!  It looks kind of like a hairy clod of dirt at first glance, but when you cut away the deceiving exterior, inside there is a creamy white flesh perfumed with a delicate celery scent.  You can use it raw,  sliced very thin in salads or roast little cubes of it into caramelized perfection.  I use it all the time in pureed soups to replace regular celery because it adds body without add extra fat.

Kohlrabi looks kind of like an alien space ship, but this one is also a real gem.  The texture and taste is similar to a broccoli stem.  Just peel away the extraterrestrial outside and slice or shred it for slaw or an excellent addition to potato salad.  It softens nicely when cooked for a delicious casserole. The leaves are also edible and can be used like collards or kale.

Beets are available year round and pack a real punch when it comes to nutrition. Roasting them produces a deep flavor, but steaming is much quicker and preserves nutrients. You’ll know they are done when you can easily insert a knife into the center.  Let them cool a bit and then use a paper towel to simply rub the peel off.

This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy beets.

Jeweled Hummus

The deep pigmented  beet root is  provides powerful compounds that protect against heart disease and certain cancers. Beans are high in fiber and protein and provide a boost of nutrition for a small amount of calories. Sesame is a good source of calcium.

1 can (15.5oz) white beans

1 or 2 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp Sesame Tahini

Juice from 1 Lemon

1 medium cooked beet

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander

Salt & pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients in a food processor for 2 min.  Serve as a dip with fresh veggies. Also great as a filling for wraps.


jennaJenna Ortner aka Lamb chop, is the chef manager for First Descents program nutrition. She currently lives in Virginia with her three daughters where she teaches yoga and health supportive cooking.


Dagger + FD Whitewater Scholarship Essay Winner

We received so many amazing submissions for the Dagger + First Descents Whitewater Scholarship. It was so difficult to choose just one. All of our participants exude and embody the true meaning of Out Living It and we’re so proud of each of you for having the courage to face your fears, push through, and continue living life to it’s fullest. The winning essay touches on so many amazing points about strength, the river, and how her experiences and friendships through First Descents have changed her life. Please read below.



*    *    *    *    *

Sitting around a campfire in rural North Carolina, my FD1 group discussed what makes us strong. There were many as many answers as there were participants: family, friends, religion. My answer was a little different, “I don’t really think I am strong, but I’m trying to get there”. Perhaps this answer was unfair; strength to me is not a state of being, strength is a series of choices that we make, whether we acknowledge them or not. My cancer diagnosis showed me that the “strong” choice does not have to be impressive or powerful.

Sometimes strength is choosing to eat when your body is screaming not to.

Sometimes strength is going for a walk, even though you need to rest every two hundred feet.

Sometimes strength is getting on an airplane for a trip to the middle of nowhere to spend a week learning to kayak with a group of people that you’ve never met before.

For me, the concept of Out Living It is the process of making the “strong” choice, even when that is not the easy choice. Out Living It is leaving your comfort zone behind because we, the FD-ers, know better than most that this is our chance at life, and in the face of a vast, unknown future, we need to take every opportunity to go out and live it.

When I first climbed into the Dagger Mamba, I felt nervous and excited. Sliding into the lake, I could barely maneuver in a straight line. By the end of the day, I knew how to roll a kayak. By the end of the week, I had conquered a Class III rapid. I was hooked. I want to continue kayaking because on the river there is no such thing as a cancer patient. You can’t “play the cancer card” and have the river take it easy on you. As Patch told all of us, “The river doesn’t care. The waves will be no smaller, the rocks no softer because you had cancer.” The river is the great equalizer. Each time you get on the river, you are making the strong choice. You are trusting your wits and your body and your fellow paddlers. Kayaking is Out Living It to me; it’s challenging and thrilling and it reminds you all the time that you are living your life to its maximum potential. A cancer diagnosis is an incredibly hard thing to face. Your life changes in many ways, and very few of them are good. However, through my experience with FD, I have not only acquired a new passion, but also new friendships that have highlighted the positive changes in my life, and helped to set me on a path that leads to a fuller, more adventurous, post-cancer journey.


Great Wall  FD Namaste-19RideFest


IMG_2670I still remember the night we tied the string bracelets around our wrists. It was the last night of camp after a week of whitewater kayaking on the wild Rogue River in Oregon. I swear there must’ve been a million stars in the sky that night. I’d never seen so many of them all at once.

After a solemn time of recognition for what we’d been through as cancer survivors and a time of remembrance for those who are no longer physically with us, our camp family paired off and tied the string bracelets around each other’s wrists. The strings represented the unity and sense of family that comes from conquering your fears together, and served as a promise to keep “out living it.”

While there’s no explicit rule that you have to keep your bracelet on for forever, it’s more or less understood that it’s good luck to wear it until it falls off. I kept mine on from that last night of camp until a few months later when I completed my last dose of chemo. My bracelet was tied loosely enough to take off without having to cut it. When I completed my last day of chemo, I slipped the bracelet off and tucked it away. There were too many emotions to process. I needed to forget them for a while.

A while turned into almost a year. From time to time, I’d look back fondly on the friendships and memories I made that week on the river, but I restrained myself from thinking about it too much. The painful reality was that these people I’d come to care for so deeply were suddenly out of my life just as quickly as they came into it. Sure, there was Facebook and email, but it wasn’t the same.

The other part that hurt even more was knowing that some of them were still in the midst of their struggle with this disease. While I rejoiced with my FD family over my completion of treatment, I also felt guilty when one of them received bad results from some scans shortly afterwards. It didn’t make sense. Why him? Why was I doing fine now but he wasn’t? These questions haunted me in every quiet moment.

BraveheartIt’s now been a little over a year since I went to camp, and a little less than a year since I took off that bracelet. Last night, that guy from my camp family died. My heart felt like it broke into as many pieces as there were stars in the sky our last night of camp. His FD name was Braveheart, a name he’d certainly earned on and off the river. He had the spirit of a champion, of someone who looked his fears in the eye and growled back. He wore his string until his very last day. Last night, I put my string back on for the first time.

It’s time for me to remember those emotions, to accept what has been, and to cherish the memories, no matter how bittersweet it may be. It’s not enough to say “I conquered my fears once.” I want to be able to say I am living brave-heartedly, conquering my fears every day until my last day. I am better for having known Braveheart, as well as all of my FD family members. Braveheart, you are remembered dearly and the inspiration you gave to all of us lives on.


Elise Intern LS pic1Elise Frame (“Lil Sis”) is a 23 year-old student at the University of Texas studying Communications with a focus on Nonprofit Development. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 20, but recently finished chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free in October 2014. Elise participated in an FD1 kayaking trip last summer and discovered a previously unknown love for the great outdoors. She now enjoys stand up paddleboarding and kayaking on Town Lake in Austin, Texas, where she currently lives. As a passionate young adult cancer awareness and prevention advocate, she has served as an intern a

Krimson Klover for First Descents

sleighrideblackback-2000x3000We are thrilled to be partnering with the amazing folks at Krimson Klover, who are very generously donating the proceeds from the Sleigh Ride Sweater to help provide an FDX experience for young adults impacted by cancer. We got a chance to catch up with the owner, Rhonda Swenson, and marketing director Rachel Hadley, to find out more about the company and why giving back is so important for them. 

How did KK first hear of First Descents?
Rhonda: “I have a friend on the First Descents Board of Directors, Debbie Ford. She and I traveled to Africa on a safari run by her brother’s company and we started talking about FD. ”

Why did you choose for proceeds to go to FD? 
The program that First Descents offers is a life-changing experience for the participants. What they do is simply amazing. We are thrilled to have worked with FD, Debbie and Mark Thronton Safaris, to help provide an Africa experience to some very deserving participants. Africa is life-changing in its own right, so the combination is really incredible.

Have you ever donated proceeds from a garment before? 
Yes, in the past we have done a fundraiser every year, benefiting the breast cancer fund and other nonprofits. At the end of the day it is about giving back in the best way we know how- using our products to help amazing charities.

Can you give me a brief history of the company/brand?
Rachel: At Krimson Klover we are crazy about sweaters. Crazy passionate, that is. Our first collection was Fall 2010 and over the past 6 years we have grown and evolved into a lifestyle clothing brand for women who love fashion, the outdoors, and luxury fibers from sources that respect their animals, Mother Nature and their employees. We are a small women-owned/operated business with 900 dealers across country and Canada.


sleighrideblackbackhang-2000x3000For more information on Krimson Klover, go to and to check out the sweater that will be benefiting First Descents.

The Mother I Was Meant To Be

Crush1 (1)She wanted to wait until the timing felt right. She wanted to be settled in her career and give her husband a chance to finish grad school. She wanted two children, one boy and one girl, like she’d grown up with (although she knew she would be happy just as long as they were healthy). She wanted to eat all the right foods, take all the right vitamins, read all the best books. She wanted to wear cute maternity outfits and to be told she was “glowing” even when she felt like an overstuffed whale. She wanted to call her parents and her best friends with the “news” and to hear their excitement. She wanted to commiserate and celebrate with the other moms about all the difficult and exciting milestones. She wanted a natural birth. After years of watching her mother as a midwife she knew that for certain. She wanted to come up with her birth plan knowing full well that it’s nearly impossible to plan something as unpredictable as giving birth. She would definitely breastfeed her baby. She would pick out a name from a list in a notebook she had kept since high school. She would go through the messy miracle of birth and come out the other side a part of an ancient tribe of women who have created life. She had never once questioned wanting all of this, never once doubted her dedication to motherhood. It was a job she knew she was born to do.

And then…she got cancer.

At 30 years old, in the same exact month my husband and I had decided to start trying for a family I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. It was stage 2 but incredibly aggressive. On the day I was diagnosed I told the doctors without a moment’s hesitation that I didn’t care if I kept my breasts I just wanted to save my fertility. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to go through fertility treatments and freeze my embryo before I started chemo, a chance which, tragically, far too many young people are denied. At the time, I reassured myself with the thought that even if chemo destroyed my fertility and the mastectomy took away my chances of breastfeeding I’d still be able to get pregnant someday.

After a year of treatment, including 20 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy and 5 weeks of radiation I was declared cancer-free and sent on my way. I fully embraced life and adventure during those precious months when I thought I had beaten cancer, including a trip with First Descents rock climbing in Moab (link to post about trip?). But they were short lived. Just four months after treatments ended in January of this year I found a pea sized lump near my clavicle. One biopsy and a PET scan later and my worst fears were confirmed. I was diagnosed with what the doctors assumed was Stage 4 cancer. (The lump near my clavicle made it Stage 3C, but a spot that lit up on the scan in my mediastinum, which they presumed was cancer, made it Stage 4. That spot has not lit up on any subsequent scans.) That’s the stage that comes with labels like “terminal” and “incurable.”

In those first months after my recurrence being a mother was the furthest thing from my mind. All I wanted was to survive the year, to have more time with my husband, to find ways to show the people I loved how much I loved them. In my mind I was planning my own funeral while simultaneously fighting like hell to stick around. After 12 different doctors told me my cancer was chemo-resistant, radiation-resistant, inoperable and didn’t qualify for any available clinical trials I finally found an oncologist with an out-of-the-box approach who began treating me with a very promising, albeit extremely complex, protocol. It was expensive and I’d have to pay for it all out-of-pocket but it was my life and I had basically been given no other option. Nearly nine months later and the treatments appear to be doing their job. My small tumor is shrinking out of existence and growing increasingly dimmer on every scan.

As the cancer faded from my PET scans so it faded from the forefront of my mind. It stopped ruling every waking moment of every day, stopped dictating every decision, every emotion. I finally began to feel safe in my own skin again. I could finally see a future in front of me that stretched out past the next few days, weeks and months. I could breathe again.

It was only then, when I had finally managed to take a few steps back from the fear I’d been holding onto, that I realized an unexpected grief had moved into its place. I hadn’t noticed it until my husband received a call from a friend one day to tell us she was pregnant. The appropriate response would obviously have been joy and excitement for this dear friend of ours. Instead, I fell completely to pieces. I hid away trying to muffle my heaving sobs. It felt as though my heart had been ripped out of my chest. A numbness eventually overtook me followed by depression. My completely disproportionate reaction ultimately had very little to do with my friend and everything to do with the fact that my brain finally had the space to process the unspeakable truth: I would never get to become the mother I was meant to be.

The emotional reality of this truth is incredibly difficult to explain and filled with embarrassment and shame. I have unwieldy and unpredictable reactions to even the most subtle references to pregnancy. When a friend talks about “having kids someday” with an air of nonchalant certainty it can cut like a knife. Being in my early 30’s there is a Facebook pregnancy announcement, what feels like, every day.

My brain seems to have strange rules about whether or not I find a new pregnancy upsetting. If they already had kids before I had cancer I’m not bothered. If they had trouble getting pregnant or had to use some non-traditional route I can handle it. If I rarely see them anymore or we aren’t close it doesn’t faze me (much). But if someone close to me gets knocked up the good old fashioned way it ignites a feeling much deeper than jealousy. It’s an absolutely overwhelming incomprehension of how this is my reality.

That mother that I had planned on being was such a deep part of my identity, deeper even than what I do for a living now and even who I married, because it has always been there for as long as I can remember. It’s like a child who dreams their whole life of being a pilot, envisioning an entire life spent flying through the skies, and arrives for the first day of training to discover their eyesight isn’t good enough. Except every other person in that child’s life and nearly every person they meet and, indeed, most of the people in the world at some point in their lives get to be pilots, whether they wanted to be or not. They all get to fly and become all consumed by it and she has to stay put on the ground. And to make matters worse, in one way or another, nearly everything society values revolves around being able to be a pilot. It’s devastating to be that earth-bound child who wants nothing more than to fly.

On top of my well of grief are lots of other complicated emotions. I feel incredibly guilty for feeling this way. I just want to have joy for my friends’ joy and to celebrate new life unabatedly and be there for them when it gets hard. I feel sad and selfish that I’m not more emotionally available for my pregnant and parenting friends. I also feel guilty for even talking about having kids someday. I am surrounded by young people who don’t know if they will survive the next few months, or years, let alone long enough to have kids. I feel afraid of the day when even closer friends get pregnant and I worry tremendously about my ability to really be there with them and for them in a deep and meaningful way. And I feel deeply excluded from an ever growing community of women in my life who have had an experience I may never get to have. I’m on the outside of the mommy club when all I ever wanted was to be its pack leader.

Emotions aside, the logistics of this truth are also tricky. I know everyone wants to jump to solutions and thanks to technology there are many available to us today. Here are the facts as I understand them. I could adopt but it can be extremely difficult to do so when you have a terminal diagnosis on your medical charts. There are “cancer friendly” adoption agencies and even “cancer friendly” adoption countries but generally it’s even harder than a regular adoption process which is already extremely difficult and most of them require you are cancer free for a certain number of years and I have no idea how long it could take to reach that point. Emotionally I’m also not certain I could bear being viewed as an unfit mother not to mention that fact that, as selfish as it may seem, I would still like the chance to have my own biological children if at all possible.

Even though my fertility seems to be shot by the tremendous amount of chemo my body sustained I could still theoretically get pregnant with my frozen embryo. However, even if the cancer disappeared tomorrow I’d still need to be on preventative treatments for years to come, possibly for the rest of my life, and I can’t get pregnant while I’m on them. I just don’t know if I’ll ever feel safe enough to go off treatments considering how intensely aggressive this cancer has proven itself to be. And despite the lack of statistics on the link between pregnancy and recurrence I’ve worked so hard to create some balance in my body and nothing throws that off like pregnancy. Would I be willing to risk my life further just as I am bringing a new one into the world? I’ve found it an impossible question to answer.

Then there is surrogacy. While this option would still leave me without the experience of pregnancy like adoption, unlike adoption I may still be able to have my own children with my own embryo. The main obstacle in this case is primarily financial. We already spend about one whole salary on my treatments each year and hiring a surrogate costs at least that much. It’s incredibly difficult for me to imagine a day when we would be able to afford this option but it is definitely the most hopeful one available and the one that I cling to with the most optimism.

When my heart first broke over my new reality I was determined to come to terms with never getting to be a mother. There were too many unknowns, too many miracles that stood between me and motherhood to get my hopes up. But that sunk me into a deep depression and I realized that this life that I have been working so hard to save didn’t really have meaning if I didn’t get to become a mother someday. So I decided to do what I have become really good at doing over the last few years: fight. If I am capable of fighting off death surely I can find a way to fight for a new life. And like everything with cancer, I know I will not have to do it alone.

If there is one thing that cancer has taught me it’s that I am utterly and completely dependent on the people and communities around me. I wouldn’t be here today if my friends and family hadn’t cared for me throughout my first round of treatments and then raised money to help us cover the cost of my current treatments. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for brilliant scientists, courageous doctors and dedicated healers. The thought that someone, whether she is a stranger or a friend, might someday carry my child for me fills me up with such a tremendous gratitude for the generosity of the human spirit that it leaves me speechless. I have no idea how or when it will happen but I will be a mother someday. And I’ll tell my children that not only did their mother fight to save her own life but she fought like hell to create theirs.