Taking the Post-Cancer Plunge

By: First Descents Staff

Not yet 30 years old, Chalmers McGillivray — a First Descents alumnus who recently helped conduct a breast cancer fundraiser to support our life-changing programs — felt like he was on the verge of making things happen for himself when he was waylaid by a cancer diagnosis. For the ensuing eight years, he felt like he was unable to move forward.

In 2021, though, Chalmers joined us on a rock climbing program and returned home to an opportunity to coach at Cleveland State University. Today, he’s leading his second season as the dive coach with the school’s swimming and diving teams.

We’re honored and grateful to share that Chalmers and his team raised over $2,800 for First Descents at their annual “Pink Meet” breast cancer fundraiser October 21 in honor of #BreastCancerAwarenessMonth.


Here’s Chalmers’ story in his own words:

I was diagnosed with my cancer at 29 years old. I had a plan, a career, and had just signed a contract as a juggler and acrobatic performer with a local circus. I had to throw all of that away, forget everything I had planned, and for the next 8 years, I got stuck in a cycle where I couldn’t plan my life past my next blood draw.

Through the acro/circus/yoga community, I met someone who had gone on an FD trip after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She recommended that I look into FD and see about going on a trip myself. I decided to take her advice, and in October 2021 I went rock climbing in Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin.

The biggest thing I realized on that trip was that I’m not alone. That was the first time I talked to a group of my peers that really understood what it was like to confront something like cancer so early in our adult lives. We also found a good amount of humor in a lot of it. That was also the first time I laughed about anything that I had gone through.

A few weeks after I got back from Devil’s Lake, the opportunity to coach at Cleveland State University came up. I don’t think I would have pursued that opportunity had it not been for FD. I went after it, and when I was offered the diving coach job, I packed up my life and moved from Detroit to Cleveland. I’m in my second season with the Cleveland State men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams.

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