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In October 2013, Jennifer Morris was diagnosed with stage 2B ER- and PR-positive breast cancer. She entered into treatment at the age of 44. After eight months of an aggressive treatment plan that consisted of surgery, chemo and radiation, Jennifer received a call letting her know she had the opportunity to go on a First Descents program with her company and First Descents supporter, Genentech. After going on a kayaking program in 2014 and a rock- climbing program in 2015, Jennifer — known throughout the FD community as “Boots” — became one of First Descents’ biggest alumni advocates. She’ll tell you that week on the river changed her life and gave her a renewed hope and sense of community.
But where do you go and what do you do when the weeklong program ends and the high of the First Descents experience starts to wane? As the alumni community grew, FD asked itself this question, and as a result, FDtributaries were established in 2013.
“FDtributaries are regional chapters designed to support and connect our growing alumni community, and all young adults impacted by cancer, through local alumni-driven experiences,” explains First Descents Director of Alumni Engagement Julie Kinamore. “Tribs was created as a way to serve the growing need for ongoing support after weeklong FD programs while also giving a taste of FD to those that have not been able to attend a core program.”
While First Descents alumni play a vital role in their local community group, Tribs are not solely for FD alumni, but welcome any young adult impacted by cancer. Estimates note that there are currently 150,000 young adults who could benefit from an FD experience, and Tribs seeks to connect those individuals to a community at a local level to hopefully create longstanding friendships and support nationwide.
“I think that Tribs provides an essential component to the FD experience because it keeps the FD connection throughout the year at the quarterly events,” says Jennifer. “It is perspective-changing each time you meet new cancer fighters and survivors. I always walk away from Tribs with a better understanding of myself and an openness and new perspective that I am in awe of. Every one of us deals with cancer in our unique way. I realize I gain strength from understanding our different perspectives on how each of us navigates cancer.
As I reflect over time on my experiences with FD, I see how the program peels away the layers built up from cancer and creates space for humility and compassion. The experience is a gift I wish everyone going through cancer could experience. It truly is life-changing.”
Tribs are focused on offering a similar experience to the weeklong programs, but by condensing them into single-day and weekend trips, First Descents is able to serve far more participants with localized events. Already this year, FDtribs has served 347 participant experiences through 34 events, with 10 more events planned through the end of the year in their 12 established cities.
“For our growing community, FDtribs is a resource that spreads and delivers the culture of FD outside of the physical constraints of weeklong programs. These local experiences also address the anxiety and concerns including leaving family, traveling to a new place and the physical challenge many of our participants experience before attending their first FD program,” Julie explains. “FDtribs enables alumni to connect with one another in their local communities post-program, thereby reinforcing the bonds and relationships formed at FD programs. These relationships encourage the healing process begun at programs to continue indefinitely and empower FD alumni to continue to stay connected, seek challenge and pursue adventure in everyday life.”
Already in the three years since FDtribs were established, the program has grown significantly, adding new cities each year and connecting hundreds of young adults impacted by cancer. “With our First Descents alumni base growing each year, Tribs will reach new levels of growth in 2017. Salt Lake, Chicago and San Diego will join as official Trib locations, increasing our Trib chapters to 15. We will continue to sponsor four quarterly events in the majority of Trib locations, aligning with First Descents’ four core values of Community, Adventure, Challenge and Humility,” says First Descents Alumni Engagement Coordinator Lizzie LaCour. “We hope to boost participation and excitement around the FDtribs scholarship option; this opportunity allows us to serve more YAs, spark new communities and identify strong alumni leaders.”
“The powerful thing about First Descents is bringing together a group of people that all share a common experience — a fight with cancer,” says Austin Tribs committee member Jon “Wiggles” Olson. “During the weeklong trips, we have the opportunity to really get to know each other and share our experiences with people who truly understand them. I’ve found our Austin Tributary to be a direct extension of that. Even though it’s for a shorter period of time, maybe just a half day or an overnight, just being around other survivors that ‘get it’ is an incredible gift.”
FDtributaries include: Los Angeles, Denver, Cleveland, Austin, New York, Boston, Minneapolis, Orlando, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, DC/Baltimore and soon to be launching San Diego, Salt Lake City, Chicago.
Here are a few examples of 2016 Trib events:
Q1: COMMMUNITY – SINGLE DAY
San Francisco: Culinary Workshop – A culinary workshop where participants learned new cooking techniques and incorporated cancer- fighting ingredients into healthy dishes.
Denver, Seattle, Portland and New York City: Curling – All four Tribs took curling lessons from various curling clubs within their communities. Afterwards, each Trib gathered for a community potluck dinner.
Q2: ADVENTURE – MULTI-DAY
Denver: Hut Trip – Participants snowshoed and skinned to their lodging for the weekend — two cozy huts nestled in the backcountry of Vail, where the first-ever Tribs Snow Olympics was held, including “bobsled” races, snowball shot put and biathlon, and long jump.
Los Angeles: Climbing and camping in Joshua Tree – A road trip out to Joshua Tree National Park for a weekend of camping and rock climbing. The weekend was complete with a cook-off to help distribute meal responsibilities. The team that was declared the winners received a copy of First Descents’ 2nd edition Out Cooking It cookbook.
Q3: CHALLENGE – MULTI-DAY
Seattle: Kayaking the San Juan Islands (multi- day in July) – Ten participants kayaked 21 miles over two days in the San Juan Islands. The weekend was filled with incredible whale and seal sightings, camping on a secluded island and creative “kayak sailing.”
Boston: Biking Bridge to Beach (multi-day in September) – Sixteen participants biked 50 miles over two days in New England across beautiful rolling terrain with a few climbs, camping at Wit’s End Campground at the mid-way point.
Q4: HUMILITY – SINGLE DAY: Planned activities may include:
Seattle: Volunteering with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Orlando: Creating care baskets for the first responders of the Orlando nightclub shooting. Beach cleanups, volunteering at homeless shelters, etc.