The Art of Adventure

By: Karisa Marley, FD Alum

Ever since I was little art and nature have been the two strongest influences for me. When I was recovering from my second cancer related surgery and I was struggling to feel hopeful, these were the forces that helped me feel better.

I felt really alone after surgery. I didn’t know anyone else who had lived through cancer who was my age. I started searching online for advice for people my age with cancer. What I found was First Descents. For the first time since my surgery I felt a surge of hope as I read about the outdoor adventures this group went on. I immediately filled out the form and hoped I would be able to go on a program and that my husband and family could handle taking care of my two little ones if I got accepted. 

While I waited to hear back from FD, I started hiking. I figured I would need to be in better shape if I was going to surf or kayak or rock climb. Every hike cleared my head and soon I was ready to start making art again (something I had felt too sad to do right after surgery). The wonderful thing about hiking and painting for me is getting “in the zone”. I was so focused on scrambling over rocks or swishing my brush in just the right way that I forgot everything else. I was fully present, not worried about my cancer coming back, not worried about treatment options. I decided that I would try every day to paint just a little, no matter if I was feeling down or not because even just 15 minutes of putting paint on paper got me out of my head and feeling good again.

Then I got the best email ever. There was a spot in the September surfing program with First Descents! I said yes, booked my plane ticket and then immediately started second guessing my decision. I was so nervous about leaving my children and spending an entire week with strangers. I wanted to cancel so many times, but instead I got on the plane and headed to Santa Cruz. The week in Santa Cruz flew by with surfing, exploring and mostly laughter. I am pretty sure that week was the most I’d laughed since my surgery.

I never expected to love all the people on that trip as much as I do. To make friends who really got what I was going through was magical. Not to mention spending a week riding waves, having crazy dance parties & exploring a new city together. After flying home I did what I always do when I am full of emotions, I painted. I spent the days and weeks missing my surf camp friends so I painted bright colorful abstracts inspired by their amazing spirits. I decided to take my favorites of the paintings and use them to raise funds for FD. I am hoping to continue my fundraiser by selling more prints and by creating a series of small original paintings as well.

I hope that selling my art can help send more young adults on adventures with FD and maybe inspire other survivors to use art to help in their own healing.

To support Karisa and First Descents, please visit:


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