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Natalie “Maverick” Conforti

In 2008 I carpooled up to the Forks of Salmon River on the one-year-anniversary of a mastectomy. Upon hearing about First Descents all I had expected was a cancer camp at which I would get to spend some time outdoors, meet one or two survivors I could relate with, and maybe enjoy a camp fire.  FD provided that, plus the rush of actually learning how to kayak, and making a whole set of friends for life, in the campers, staff, and instructors.

In the midst of graduating from an industrial design program I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my third cancer diagnosis in twenty-eight years.  I hadn’t been on any sort of week-long vacation in over ten years.  At Otter Bar I was able to spend the week with a secondary cancer survivor, and chat with him about what the stress of more than one cancer diagnoses meant for him while we were in our kayaks on the water.  Upon returning from that camp, everyone in San Francisco commented on a noticeable difference in my demeanor: my perseverance had returned, and so had my sense of humor.  There was a willingness to live that had managed to escape when I had faced cancer not once, not twice, but three times in my twenty-nine years.

I returned to camp the following two summers.  Each camp was individually amazing in its own way with some campers I recognized from previous camps, and a bevy of new friends to be made in the midst of meals, campfires, and kayaking.  The stories, vistas, and natural beauty were gazed at in the midst of developing my own cancer story, which was already fifteen years old. I have had the good fortune of attending an FDX experience in Costa Rica.  When I signed up for that camp, I knew that my FD travels would not only be worth far more than any expenses I incurred, I would then be able to repay my good fortunes to those I met beyond camp, which is the real magic of First Descents.