10 Ways To Love Yo’ Body


I want to talk about loving our bodies and not merely in a bar soap commercial sort of way. Although it’s important to come to love and accept our bodies no matter what they look like on the outside the kind of love I am talking about is more than skin deep. I am talking about the kind of revolutionary love that connects our minds and our bodies and can heal us from the inside out, a kind of love that it took getting cancer for me to understand.

Before I get into how I think we can all find this kind of love I want to share my own journey through frustration, betrayal and eventually acceptance, awe and love for my body. Prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer I think I had a pretty typical relationship with my body for a 20-something-year-old. I saw it as serving primarily aesthetic purposes which meant I was often frustrated with it. I never hated it but always wished I was a little bit taller, a little less soft around the edges. My body also rarely performed the way I wanted it to. I was a particularly uncoordinated teenager and could never seem to run as far, swing the bat as hard or spike the ball with as much gusto as I would have liked. In some ways it felt like me and my body were in a constant battle and neither of us ever won.

Then, right around my 30th birthday, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease and breast cancer in rather quick succession and I was overwhelmed by a feeling of betrayal. My body was literally attacking itself and in the process it was threatening my life. But I also began to feel guilty. Although I had always tried to eat healthy I had been doing so from a perspective of what would make me look good, not what would make my body feel it’s very best. I had been hard on my body, filling it with chemicals, demanding that it keep running at optimum levels despite the toxins to which it was exposed. I also felt bad about the treatment I was about to put it through. Over the course of a year my body sustained 20 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and 33 rounds of radiation. It was poisoned, slashed and burned, as they say.

As my treatment went on, however, I began to realize how resilient my body was, how it would bounce back from beating after beating, ever striving to make me feel well again. The combination of guilt and awe that I now found myself feeling, on top of the desire to be as healthy as I could, led me to begin thinking about my body in completely new ways. I began to be gentle with it, started to try and listen to what it needed and wanted, educated myself on what was best for it instead of what would make it look the way I wanted.

By the time I was diagnosed with advanced metastatic breast cancer this past January I no longer felt betrayed by my body. Instead I was deeply in love with it. I devoted all of my time and energy to treating it with all the kindness and care I could muster. I love my body, more than anything else, for letting me be here, for letting me exist on this earth, for allowing me to explore the world. Before cancer my body was an impediment to letting me be the person I wanted to be and now I am in awe of this incredible vehicle that works ceaselessly to try and keep me on the planet enjoying my life for as long as it can. I used to take my sight, my hearing, my ability to eat, to run and jump and play for granted. Now I know that cancer or some other debilitating illness could easily take those away from me so I am thankful every day for what my body lets me do.

Whether you have had cancer or not we could all use a little more body lovin’ in our lives. Here are 10 ways to learn to love your fabulous body:

1. Just listen: Our bodies are pretty good at communicating with us but, unfortunately, we are even better at ignoring them. We see much of our bodies’ communications: upset stomachs, headaches, aches and pains, etc. as annoyances to be covered up, not necessarily messages that something might not be quite right. After several years of dealing with chronic illness I have come to realize that often I intuitively know when something is wrong. I have always been right when a new lump or spot on a PET scan was cancerous and when it wasn’t. I went to the doctor before I had any obvious symptoms of an auto-immune disease because something was just “off.” We are taught to ignore, suppress and not give credence to the messages our bodies are constantly delivering when really we should be leaning in closer and listening as carefully as possible.

2. Eat to nourish your body not just to please your taste buds: I’m not saying don’t eat delicious food. Goodness no! What I am saying is that we should eat with nourishment as the main motivator. I have actually discovered that food can be even better when we eat for our health rather than our taste buds. Often times that plate of pancakes looks tempting but leaves us feeling sluggish and unfulfilled. It’s because those yummy pancakes aren’t providing what we most need. I’m not advocating any kind of particular diet because I don’t believe there is a one size fits all. I do think that we should be eating, and teaching our children to eat, what makes us feel good, not just what tastes good.

3. Don’t work out, have fun: It wasn’t until I started rock climbing regularly that I realized how much fun a good workout could be. I used to force myself to go to the gym no matter how bored I was with my routine. Now I’ve let go of any strict rules I once had for myself (“must get x amount of cardio in every week”) and just try to move my body in whatever way is the most rewarding. Sometimes I really feel like a good stretch so I dig into yoga. Other times I feel like a nice sprint so I go for a run. Don’t be afraid to dabble in lots of different activities, to try something new, to go outside and to make playing your passion.

4. Recognize when your body feels good: We often pay so much attention to what is going wrong with our bodies that we fail to pay attention when our bodies feel good. Chemo was a really good teacher in reminding me to appreciate how good it feels to feel good. A good day during chemo was one where I didn’t have terrible mouth sores, I wasn’t terribly nauseated and I could get up and walk around for more than a few minutes without feeling exhausted. Today I try to appreciate whenever I am feeling strong, vital and whole and am grateful to my body for letting me feel that way.

5. Pay attention to the mind-body connection: Our minds and our bodies are intimately connected. Nearly everything we think and feel is playing out in some way at the physiological level. It’s easy to recognize this when we are feeling a negative emotion. When the tears start rolling or our hearts start pounding the connection is clear. But it goes the other way as well. Positive feelings calm our bodies down, release happy hormones and boost our immune systems. One benefit of paying attention to this connection is that when we are overwhelmed by negative emotions just concentrating on our bodies instead of the negative thoughts can help us relax. It’s an incredibly powerful connection that can keep us sick as well as help us heal. Just think of the commonly occurring placebo effect. Just believing we will get better can make a sugar pill as effective as medicine. That’s a mighty powerful mind!

6. Respect the R&R: We love to be busy. Our bodies (and our minds) do not. Our bodies love sleep and downtime but we so rarely give it all that it requires. Don’t be afraid to go to bed early, take a nap, let yourself unwind, allow yourself do nothing but just be present. Your body and your brain will thank you.

7. Build the right team of healers around you: You would never send your pet to a veterinarian who didn’t care about animals so why do so many of us put up with doctors who don’t fully respect us and our bodies? Contrary to popular belief YOU are the number one expert on your body so you should find doctors and healers who respect that idea above all others. You want a team who wants to work with you to help you find the root causes of your health problems and lead you on a path to ultimate wellbeing.

8. Forgive your body: It’s easy to feel betrayed by our bodies. We all deal with some sort of illness, or allergy, or weakness or cancer. Our bodies are fragile and we live in a pretty toxic world. Just as we often make mistakes so do our bodies. It’s part of our humanity. While it’s ok to wade through all the anger and frustration you need to come to a more accepting place I do recommend you give your body a break whenever possible and try to respect all the ways in which it is working for you even when it feels like it’s not on your side.

9. Don’t make comparisons: We all know we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to the unrealistic and heavily Photoshopped standards we see all around us but in reality we shouldn’t compare our bodies, what they need and their strengths and their weaknesses to any other body. Each one is completely unique. Each of our bodies has different needs when it comes to food, workouts, environment, medicine, sleep, etc. Don’t feel bad if your body is different from those around you. Just respect its little quirks and do what you can to meet its unique needs.

10. Be in awe: Our bodies are absolutely incredible instruments. The millions of billions of tiny little processes that have to happen every second to keep us breathing, keep our blood pumping, keep our immune system going are worthy of our unending awe. Our bodies are constantly fighting to keep us healthy, constantly recovering even when we don’t treat it very kindly, constantly doing everything it can to keep us here for as long as it’s able. If that isn’t worthy of our unconditional love I’m not sure what is!









FD Healthy: Stay Hydrated!

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Dehydrated? You need more than a water bottle!  Pick up your fork!

When do we need to drink more than plain water to stay hydrated?

When you do high intensity exercise for more than one hour or in intense heat.  Your body loses not only fluids ,but also electrolytes: sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

Electrolytes control a huge list of body functions including fluid level, temperature control, cardiac arrhythmia, respiratory rate, digestion and neurological function to name just a few.

Recovery starts before exercise begins.

Foods contain so many more electrolytes as well as vitamins and minerals and health protective compounds than sports drinks.  Not to mention, fresh whole foods do NOT contain added sugars, chemical, synthetic vitamins and artificial colors.

-Season when you cook.  Salt is a flavor enhancer.  Don’t be afraid to season your fresh whole foods when cooking.

-Eat lots of fresh fruits and Vegetables.  Bananas are high in potassium but also oranges, melons, sweet potatoes and leafy greens.

-For especially high water content (90% or more) cucumber, iceberg lettuce, celery, radishes, green peppers, cauliflower, strawberries and grapefruit.

-Dairy is not the only way to get calcium.  Dark leafy greens, broccoli, legumes, almonds  and sesame and sea vegetables are all very high in calcium.

-Magnesium helps fight fatigue.  Eat plenty of green veggies, whole grains, beans, lentils and nuts.

Coconut water is relatively low in carbohydrates and rich in potassium, but neither coconut water nor most sports drinks contain enough sodium or carbs for heavy perspiration.  For long bouts of exercise you may need to supplement with more carbs (think raisins, dates, or banana) to keep blood sugar up.

Ditch the chemical laden sport drinks and try this hydration drink recipe for a long day on the river, at the beach or on the rocks (pun intended).


Master Recipe

1 quart of liquid – plain water, green tea, herbal tea or coconut water

¼ tsp Himalayan sea salt

¼ cup fresh juice – lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit or any fresh fruit puréed

1-2 Tablespoons sweetener – honey, stevia,  or maple syrup

Great additions:

Fresh ginger root – brew in tea or hot water and then cool.  Ginger calms the stomach and may help reduce muscle pain

Chia seed are high in omega 3’s , potassium, calcium and antioxidants.  Make your own chia gel by pouring 1 cup of water over 3 Tbs of chia seeds.  Let it sit overnight in the fridge. Use the gel to stir into your drinks in any amount you like.


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.




One Day At A Time- PTSD and Anxiety after cancer


Sometimes it’ll just hit me all at once out of nowhere.

I’ll be in the car driving home, or walking around on my college campus and then suddenly… I’m crying. And I mean like ugly crying… hardcore sobbing with streams of tears rushing down my face. My hands usually start trembling and my knees go weak. I just want to curl up in a ball and disappear. Sometimes it gets so bad I can’t even see anything in front of me. All I can think of is, Cancer…I had cancer.

And the strange part is, most of the time I don’t even really know why I’m crying about something that happened to me over two years ago. I don’t feel anything except the numbness that echoes through me like footsteps in an empty hall. But still, my whole body tenses as if I’m staring down an invisible enemy. In my head, I know I’m not in any immediate danger. My brain is telling the rest of me to get it together and suck it up. Don’t be such a baby, you’re fine now, I try to tell myself. But of course, that doesn’t help.
Something insignificant triggers a piece of a memory, and then at once it all comes back to me. Half-second memories and nightmares flood my mind, causing each breath to feel like a desperate gasp for air before drowning. I try to stay focused on the present, but visions of the past demand my attention and force me under. Needles going into my chest port, painful bone marrow biopsies, liters of neon yellow chemotherapy, blood and platelet infusions, being violently ill, wheelchairs, electrocuting pain all over, wondering whether the chemo or the cancer would kill me first, wondering if it will just come back one day anyways…

As I drop to my knees shell-shocked, I realize… I am drowning inside of myself, and no one else even knows it.

Eventually, I reached a point where I had to talk to somebody about what was going on. Thankfully, I was able to receive free post-cancer counseling therapy through a local nonprofit. Talking with my counselor about these thoughts and feelings has helped immeasurably, and I would highly recommend anyone who has been affected by cancer (whether by their own diagnosis or that of a loved one) seek professional counseling. My counselor told me I exhibit many signs of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and anxiety, but that it’s not uncommon for survivors to experience those issues after treatment ends. It hadn’t really occurred to me before that this might actually be a common struggle for many other adolescent/young adult (AYA) cancer survivors, too. Maybe I wasn’t just “being a crybaby.” Maybe this wasn’t something I could just force myself to “get over.” Maybe this was somehow… normal?

After talking with my fellow FD campers, my suspicions were confirmed. PTSD is a fairly widespread issue among AYA cancer survivors, often accompanied by other underlying issues such as “survivor’s guilt,” depression and anxiety. Not everyone experiences these problems to the same degree, and some do not experience any of them at all. But for those of us who do, these mental and emotional struggles can be every bit as crippling as the physical challenges of cancer and treatment. Unfortunately, there is still a large gap in information, research and resources available that address AYA cancer survivors’ mental health issues during and after a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

First Descents plays a crucial role in filling part of this gap by providing AYA cancer survivors with the chance to connect with one another and find healing through incredible outdoor adventures. FD provides survivors with a chance to redefine their physical and mental limits by learning a new outdoor skill. Furthermore, FD helps survivors reclaim their bodies from disease to use as strong, capable tools for adventure and fun, rather than seeing themselves as broken or sick victims.

I wish I could tell you that during my FD1 kayaking trip I mastered the roll, or even a simple T-rescue. But I didn’t. I was too scared to be willingly flipped over in my kayak with my head underwater. The fear of being out of control, trapped, and drowning was too overwhelming for me. At the time, I didn’t understand why. But now I can see how to a large degree, it was my PTSD and anxiety that held me back. The feeling of drowning was all too present in my daily thoughts for me to be able to enjoy those underwater exercises. I chose to stay upright in my kayak as much as possible that week, and honestly, I still felt every bit as happy and accomplished as any of the other campers by the end of the week.

That’s part of the beauty of FD. They encouraged me to go beyond what I thought my limits were (both physically and mentally), but they never forced me to do something I didn’t feel safe doing. The motto of the week was, “Choose your own adventure.” For someone who hasn’t had much say in what’s gone on in her life, it was refreshing to have choices.

I learned tons of valuable lessons about myself and about life in general during my week on the water. I learned that life will throw you rapids, and sometimes your only option is to ride straight through them. They may end up being the most fun thing ever, or can be as scary as hell. Either way, it’s up to you to decide how you’ll tackle those rapids and what your mindset will be when riding through them. Your mindset probably won’t change your circumstances, but it certainly will change your experience of those circumstances.

I also learned that my body is stronger than I thought it was. I am (surprisingly) not made of glass! Or cancer! Who knew? After my week on the river, I was inspired to spend more time outdoors enjoying nature and being physically active. So I started out simple by go for long walks, then I started running, then I moved on to horseback riding, and soon I hope to get back in the kayak and master those skills I wasn’t ready to try before.

With PTSD and anxiety, there are good days and bad days. Counseling, friends, family, writing, art therapy and being active outdoors have all played a part in helping me outnumber the bad days with good ones. As I apply the lessons learned on the river to my everyday life, I’m finally reaching a point where I can roll myself upright from the waters of a bad day. I’ve finally found the creative outlets, resources and people that can help give me a T-rescue when I feel the rapids of PTSD pull me under. Even though the panic attacks and episodes come every now and then, they don’t scare me as much as they used to. I’m getting stronger, one day at a time. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe I’ll go on an FDX trip soon, and I’ll be able to roll and T-rescue with the best of them. After all, I’ll have had lots of mental practice. 😉

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 at The LIVESTRONG Foundation, and currently contributes to The Huffington Post‘s young adult cancer blog series, “Generation Why”.

The Importance of now


I have always been a grass-is-always-greener sort of gal. My mother likes to remind me that I was born with a fierce independent streak. I snatched the spoon out of her hands as soon as I could muster the dexterity. Along those same lines I couldn’t wait to get my own car, go off to college, move out on my own, get a job, buy a house, get married, etc. At each point in my life I knew that my life could be even better and all my problems would be solved if I just had [fill in the blank]. My mind was forever focused on the future.

As I approached my thirtieth birthday a few years ago I had a few big future plans already in the works. My husband was going to finish his PhD soon, we’d leave Washington, DC, finally move into a house that could fit all of our stuff, and start a family. It didn’t all have to happen in that order but I had finally begun craving the whole white picket fence thing and was ready to jump all in.

Life, as usual, had other plans. A few months before my 30th birthday I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that left me sick for much of the summer. Just as I was recovering from that, to add insult to immune system problems, I discovered a lump that turned out to be breast cancer.

It was early stage but aggressive and would require an intensive year of treatments, which ended up including 20 rounds of chemo, 33 rounds of radiation and a double mastectomy. In the midst of this poison, slash and burn routine my grass-is-greener mindset kicked into overdrive. Even when I put on a brave face and decided to strut around the city in high heels and a little black dress balder than the day I was born, I couldn’t wait to have a full head of hair again. Oh life with eyebrows! How sweet it would be! I created a countdown and gleefully ripped off treatment after treatment pining for the days when my stomach would settle, my body would feel strong again and my everything would stop hurting.

I found the lump on August 27, 2013 and had my final round of radiation on August 25, 2014. I spent the first half of the day celebrating and rejoicing in my new found freedom. As the day wore on, however, an unexpected pit grew in my stomach and by that evening I found myself sobbing to my husband. I was filled with fear for what was in front of me. Those supposedly greener pastures I had been waiting for all of a sudden seemed like scary, uncharted territory.

As long as I was in treatments I was safe. I was doing something. The problem was in someone else’s hands. Without treatments I was left alone to cross my fingers as tightly as I could in hopes it was enough to ward off a recurrence. My type of breast cancer, called triple negative, meant that a recurrence was twice as likely as in other breast cancers and that the first few years after treatment were the most dangerous. I just needed to survive the next three years and then my chance of recurrence would plummet and I’d be home free, my doctors had told me. But I didn’t know what survival was supposed to look like in this post-cancer place. I couldn’t go back to the way my life was before. That life and that person were forever gone. I had to build something new in the midst of a mountain of fear.

Lucky for me I was signed up to go on my First Descents trip just two weeks after my treatments ended. I spent the week rock climbing on the bright orange rocks of Utah with a bunch of badass cancer fighters just like me. One thing, among many, that I learned on those rocks was not just how to survive, but how to thrive and how to be truly present. You can try your best to make a plan for tackling each climb but once you’re up there you have no choice but to take it one foothold and one handhold at a time. You can’t worry about what obstacle may lay further up ahead. You’ve just got to keep pushing onward and upward. It was an incredible freedom to realize I didn’t have to spend my days being fearful of the future. I could just enjoy what was before me. Finally the grass I was standing on was looking pretty dang green.

I took these lessons in thriving to heart and decided to make the most of the last few months of one of the worst years of my life. After rock climbing in September I went to Italy, for work in October and got lost on the streets of Rome where I cheated on my vegan diet with cappuccinos, pizzas and gelato. In November I went to South Africa for a conference and tacked on an extra week in Cape Town where I went snorkeling with seals, diving with great white sharks, and experienced the most breathtaking views of my life hiking and rocking climbing up Table Mountain. In December I went on vacation to Mexico where I chased sea turtles around our little bay, snorkeled through the dark in an underwater cave and toured one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I was out living it as loudly as I could and refusing to let cancer have the last word on my life.

Then in January, on the drive back to DC from visiting our families for the holidays in Michigan, I found it. The car in front of us slammed on their breaks and when my husband did the same the seat belt dug into my clavicle. When I went to rub the aching spot I found a lump just beneath my clavicle on the same side I’d had breast cancer. My heart stopped, my world shattered into a million pieces and I knew in my immediately that the cancer was back. Buckets of tears, heartbreaking worry, 5 doctors’ appointments and 4 tests later and my greatest fears were confirmed. I had advanced stage metastatic breast cancer. As I started talking to doctors and getting 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th opinions I began to hear phrases like, “incurable,” “life-extending treatment,” “chemo-resistant,” “radiation-resistant,” and “palliative options,” tossed out with too much ease for the incredible weight of their connotation. It became clear that all of these doctors assumed my days were numbered.

All of a sudden the expert in greener pastures had run out of pastures. It was as if I had drawn my entire life out on a great chalkboard full of hopes and expectations for the future and someone had come along and erased every day after today. When I did dare to imagine my future all I could see was more bad-news test results, more treatment, more pain and eventually having to find a way to say good-bye to everyone I loved. When I thought about my past I just felt sad for what I had already been through and for that girl who yet again didn’t know what she had coming to her.

But spirits are tough to break and after several difficult weeks I finally came to a conclusion that helped me piece mine back together. All I had to do was be here… right now. This moment, right now, became my refuge. In this moment I am alive. I feel healthy. I feel vibrant. I can see and hear and smell and walk and talk and think. I am not the sad story my doctors want to tell. I am not cancer. I am just a girl living her life. This moment is the only thing that is guaranteed and this is where I had to live. No more pining for a brighter future. This moment could be my bright spot.

Since then I have found a doctor who has some unconventional but proven and promising treatments for me. And while I will always and forever remain hopeful that I have a long, full life ahead of me I am also busy enjoying what I’ve got right now. Despite my diagnosis, my daily pill regimen that would put your grandmother to shame, and a lingering fear that every so often leaves me convinced I’ve got cancer in my elbow or my big toe, I love my life. I still make plans, still get excited about tomorrow, but I also make sure that I am enjoying what is right in front of me for however long I’ve got it. When you stop assuming you’ve got a lifetime of summers to take the trip you’ve always wanted, thousands of days left to spend with the ones you love and millions of moments to get around to being happy you realize how important today is. You understand that if you want to go out live it you better get started…right now.

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Visiting Chichen Itza

At the 2015 First Descents Ball

At the 2015 First Descents Ball















Announcing the Out Living It Project

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We are excited to announce a new chapter for our community of fundraisers and supporters of First Descents (FD). Over the years, we have collectively participated in a host of incredibly fun and meaningful running, cycling, swimming and paddling events to support our mission through Team FD.

First Descents is redefining what it means to participate in the adventure and creativity that supports the young adults impacted by cancer who we serve. What was traditionally known as Team First Descents (TeamFD) will transition into the greater Out Living It Project  (OLI Project)– a platform that harnesses the power of our community and illustrates the impact of our shared efforts.

There are countless ways to contribute your passion and energy to the Out Living It Project, whether you would like to join one of the FD Team Events like the Leadville 100 MTB or plan your own fashion show benefit!

Please read on to learn more about the OLI Project, and visit our new homepage: firstdescents.org/outlivingit to start a project today!

If you are currently fundraising for First Descents, your current page will be able to accept donations through March 31. If you plan to continue fundraising after this date, you will need to transfer into our new platform. Please email outlivingit@firstdescents.org for further instructions.

WHAT is itThe Out Living It Project is where the First Descents community fosters a spirit of adventure, creativity, and philanthropy. OLI Projects are unique ways to fundraise for First Descents, and range from marathons to back yard barbecues to meditation challenges.

WHO can start an OLI Project? Anyone can create a project of his or her own design! All you need is a little creativity and spirit of adventure.

HOW do I join the OLI ProjectIt‘s easy! You can either join a project or start your own. See a list of FD hosted projects at the bottom of the OLI Project homepage, OR start aproject of your own design!

WHY start an OLI Project? All funds raised through the Out Living It Project support First Descents’ mission to provide life-changing outdoor adventure programs for young adults impacted by cancer.

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Back in the game: Dating after cancer


“Does this mean I have to be celibate for a year?” I mused to my sister shortly after my breast cancer diagnosis in early 2012. As a recently-single 30-year-old, I wondered what implications cancer would have on my love life. OkCupid has a lot of search criteria to help you find your ideal match, but I was pretty sure “cancer survivor” wasn’t one of them.

In the immediate aftermath of the diagnosis, my single status fell to the backburner as I tried to navigate the complex cancer web of surgeons, tests, and treatment plans. But as I settled into the 7-month treatment process (fertility preservation, chemo, and two surgeries), I started to consider my options when it came to dating.

Having met my last boyfriend online, I decided to reactivate my online dating profile about two months into the process. Armed with a lot of free time and a damn good wig, I figured I had nothing to lose by putting myself out there. It was actually easier than I had anticipated. Since I was bald at the time, cancer was a tangible part of my everyday reality and it didn’t make sense to hide it. Figuring that honesty was the best policy, I included a line in my profile about undergoing cancer treatment with some quip about being “a little less hairy than usual.” That way, if a potential date was freaked out by my cancer, we simply didn’t chat. It was actually a great screening mechanism. By putting it out there from the start, I was filtering out the men who didn’t want to spend time with me. I was pleasantly surprised at how many guys wanted to talk despite my cancer, or at least sent me good wishes for a quick recovery. I ended up meeting some nice people, and while I also had a few truly awful dates, those were more about being a bad fit personally than the fact that I had cancer. Such is the world of online dating– the ups and downs of that experience were somehow reassuringly normal.

Though I took a break from the dating scene after I finished treatment to manage some geographic and professional transitions (new city, new job), I’ve been actively dating now for about six months. It’s fair to say that this time around has been harder. Since my hair has grown back, I’m no longer “wearing” my cancer experience for the world to see. No one would guess that I’m a cancer survivor, barring a keen eye that might identify my port scar under my right collarbone. My dating profile says a lot about me: vegan, amateur chef, optimist, yogi, lover of puns. Absent from the list: cancer survivor.

Since I’m not leading with the cancer card anymore, I’m now faced with the decision of when to tell a potential love interest about my survivorship. I’ve taken it off my profile because it’s no longer the defining characteristic of my current experience, but also (if I’m honest) because I don’t want to scare people away before they have a chance to know me. In some ways, I liken it to other non-cancer-related health issues that come up in relationships, like sexually transmitted infections or depression. These things don’t typically show up on a dating profile, nor are they a part of first-date conversations. But when do folks talk about their sexual history and mental health? Where is that balance between revealing too much information too soon and waiting too long to disclose an essential part of yourself?

In retrospect, cancer survivorship has made me a little more guarded when it comes to dating—sure, I think, you may like me now, but you don’t know about my cancer yet. It’s tricky—I find that there’s a weird tension between wanting to share in the name of authenticity and wishing you didn’t have to in the first place. I think the outcome of the conversation has a lot to do with how at peace a survivor is with the reality of his or her own story— if I’m comfortable, my date is more likely to be comfortable. But cancer is an intimidating topic, and most people my age haven’t had to navigate cancer with their partners just yet, so there’s not a lot of precedent for how to respond to this news from someone you might want to see naked at some point.

Speaking of nudity, body image certainly comes into play here—my mastectomy scar isn’t glaring, but it’s there. Clearly, the right time for this conversation is somewhere between the first date and the moment where you see each other naked, so there’s no awkward moment of, “Surprise! One of my boobs is fake.” It’s more complicated than just parts and scars, though. While sex itself is an intimate act, it somehow feels much more vulnerable to let someone see and touch the physical evidence of my cancer experience when most of the time it’s hidden to the world at large.

Finally, there are all of the typical dating questions that come up in your 30s—kids, marriage, and the rest of the details about spending your lives together. The question of whether I want kids is complicated by my concerns about genetics and the possibility of recurrence. As for marriage, that whole “in sickness and in health, til death do us part” thing lands a little differently when you’re a survivor, as I assume it does for someone who loves that survivor. Sure, everybody is just one bad biopsy away from cancer, but recurrence is a tangible concern for me in a way that it isn’t yet for most of my 30-something friends (and potential love interests). It just lends an added weight to the possibility of long-term partnership that I didn’t anticipate when I was first diagnosed.

While I’m still working out the details of my post-cancer dating reality, the more I practice telling men about my cancer, the easier it gets to feel comfortable in my own post-cancer skin. Of course, we all bring our own personal blend of bumps and bruises (both physical and emotional) to new relationships whether we’re cancer survivors or not. The trick is to find—and be—someone who is self-aware enough to own their unique set of experiences and is present enough to see the person in front of them for who they are: a beautiful, complex human with a little bit of life mileage behind them.


FD Blog pictureGreen (known outside of FD as Liz) is a thirty-something teacher, professional development coordinator, and trainer in the Washington, DC area who finds any and every excuse to soak up some sunshine. In her spare time, she can be found on the yoga mat, on a hiking trail, in a kayak, or cooking up a scrumptious vegan meal for family and friends.

Something Greater


“Lil’ Sis, you coming?” a voice called out to me. I smiled broadly and looked behind me. “Yeah, I’ll be right there!” I grabbed my helmet and life vest and jogged to catch up with the others down the road. It was my first day of kayaking camp with First Descents, and I had no idea what to expect. But I could already sense that by the end of the week, I would emerge from the river a renewed person.

The First Descents motto, “Out living it,” perfectly represents what their mission is all about: helping young adult cancer survivors see that we are not merely outliving our diseases, but that we can outlive our own expectations and limits and have an adventure that goes beyond what we ever thought was possible for us. FD reminds us that despite all that we’ve been through, we are still young, vibrant people who have a strong desire for adventure, laughter, and a sense of belonging. However isolating, discouraging or damaging cancer has been for us, it cannot take away our longing and hope for something beyond hospital walls, for something greater than even cancer itself.

I found part of that “something greater” when I participated in an FD1 kayaking trip, hosted by Sundance Kayak School on the Rogue River in Oregon. When we arrived at camp, the first order of business was to set aside our real names and come up with a new camp name. It may sound a little silly, but the camp names are just one aspect of FD that helps foster a sense of renewed self, as well as a sense of community and family between the campers. For that week, I didn’t have to keep being Elise the leukemia patient and survivor. Instead, I was now “Lil’ Sis,” the kayaker and river adventurer!

I wish I could accurately put into words just how life changing and amazing that trip was for me. The staff, the river guides, and my fellow campers all started out as strangers from different corners of the country and various walks of life, yet by the end of the week we became a family. Several of us wondered why the whole world doesn’t just go on a weeklong camp with a dozen or so strangers– there’s so much we can learn from each other.

The chance to hear the stories of others and share your own experiences with people who have also gone through something as indescribable as cancer was truly a priceless blessing. I am a stronger, more resilient, determined, caring, and openhearted person because of each of those people I paddled down the river with during that week.

One of my favorite memories from that trip was one night when all of us campers were alone in the kitchen scouting out the snacks. Somebody happened to bring up the movie The Fault in Our Stars, and that sparked a conversation. Our group migrated from the kitchen to the living room and about ten of us ended up sitting in a circle, talking for hours. As we talked, joked, and cried about our different (and not so different) experiences with cancer, it hit me that this was exactly what I had needed and been searching for so long… a community, a family… people who just got it.

On the river, we each tackled our own personal struggles, some of them physical and many of them mental. When going through cancer, there are all these things you’re either told or that you tell yourself you can’t do.

I can’t do this, I need to conserve my energy so I don’t get too fatigued later.

I shouldn’t go there, I might get sick from something in the water, air, or food.

I can’t wear that, it might irritate my port.

My past reconstructive surgery might make this uncomfortable, so I shouldn’t try anything too physical.

While those were all good reasons to stay confined to a hospital bed, out on the river they were just excuses. The camp instructors lovingly yet firmly pushed us and motivated us to go beyond what we thought we were capable of. Sometimes it was scary and I hated how out of control it made me feel. When the rough waters roared in front of me and threatened to capsize my kayak, it stirred up old feelings I had repressed from my diagnosis. It was like seeing a physical metaphor of my battle with cancer, where the control of the situation was completely out of my hands. All I could do was try to keep my head above the water and stay balanced.

But this time, I wasn’t alone. All I had to do was look to my right or left, and I’d see an FD brother or sister battling the same waters as me. Somebody was always nearby to give advice, encouragement, congratulations, or a T-rescue (it’s a kayaking thing) if needed. As the week went on, we learned about leaning into the turns and confronting the rapids head-on. One of the guides even told us to growl out loud at the rapids as we tackled them! When we finally completed the “graduation rapid,” we all came out of the waters smiling, feeling proud of ourselves and of one another.

As the week closed out, I realized that this trip had been about so much more than just learning to kayak. It was about facing the realities of what happened to me, and choosing to say that I am stronger than what tried to kill me. It was about reclaiming my life and redefining the limits of what I can do. It was about learning how complete strangers can become like family in just a few short days. It was about acknowledging that there will be rapids in life, but if you tackle them the right way and have good people by your side, you can redefine your adversity as an adventure.

(P.S. I’d like to give a special shout-out to the awesome campers and wonderful FD staff I met! Doc, Fresh, Little Mermaid, Bacon, Boomhauer, Wilson, Greyhound, Miyagi, Hybrid, Braveheart, Burn, Mama Crash, Papa Smurf, Gnomeo, Pedro, Mrs. Robinson, Turbo, Lox, Tarzan, Wallaby, and Kinja— y’all are the best, thank you for everything you taught me! Miss you guys and gals.)



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 at The LIVESTRONG Foundation, and currently contributes to The Huffington Post‘s young adult cancer blog series, “Generation Why”.

FDrock Nominations

2015 First Descents – FDrock Nomination

First Descents is excited to announce that we will be hosting an FDrock program in the 2015 summer season! FDrock is for that person who has been your “rock”throughout your cancer journey. If you would like to nominate your “rock” to attend the program please submit the follow the guidelines below. If you any questions please let us know, we are happy to help!

*Nominations will be accepted through February 28th, 2015*

Please copy/paste these questions and send your answers in an email. Nominations can be emailed to…

First Descents Programs Team- programs@firstdescents.org



FDrock – Rock Climbing – Estes Park, Colorado –  August 23 – Aug 29, 2015

Basic Information

FD Alum Name:

FDrock Nominee Name:

FD Alum and FDrock Relationship:

FDrock D.O.B:

FDrock Address:

FDrock Email Address

FDrock Mobile Phone Number:

Essay Question – to be answered by FDalum: In 500 words or less, explain why your rock needs the First Descents experience.

Essay Question – to be answered by the FDrock nominee: In 500 words or less, tell us what you hope to gain from the FD experience?

Multiple Choice – to be answered by the FDrock Nominee: Would you rather and why (in under 10 words or in haiku format):

a. Become a sentient strawberry with the mind you have now?


b. Become a regular strawberry with strawberry thoughts?


Lessons in Living

Lessons in Living from my First Descents Family | By Katie Campbell

Getting diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30 was by far the loneliest thing that has ever happened to me. Much of the loneliness stemmed from the fact that few people my age, including me, had any firsthand experiences with cancer. The day I was diagnosed I didn’t know the difference between radiation and chemotherapy or what an “oncologist” was (and that it would require three of them to treat my cancer). As I slowly became an expert in all things cancer from anti-nausea medications to how to pass the time at a chemotherapy infusion, I felt myself feeling increasingly alone. I was in unchartered territories for my generation and had to forge a path for myself. This included making my own decisions about everything, from choosing to share my diagnosis on Facebook to foregoing ever being able to breastfeed in favor of the most aggressive surgery available.

While my friends were incredibly supportive few could relate to what I was going through and it was becoming increasingly difficult to relate to them. I was figuring out how to survive the next treatment, how to draw fake eyebrows and how to face down my own mortality while friends were planning weddings, switching careers, moving, starting school, getting pregnant. I was stuck, head down, suffering through while all around me it felt as though people were bounding blissfully towards the next big thing in their lives. I didn’t know anyone else like me and so, I went out in search of them.

Slowly I began to find other young adults like me. I started out with support groups designed just for young adults with cancer. It was there I met people who encouraged me to try out First Descents. The one week I spent rock climbing with First Descents last September helped me to build an entire family of fellow fighters. I came home to Washington, DC from that trip thrilled to find a strong and vibrant First Descents Tributary here which has become a whole new family to me right in my backyard. In the short few months I’ve been with the DC Trib we have gone rock climbing, escaped to West Virginia for a weekend of skeet shooting and hiking and hosted multiple fundraisers to support our work in the DC area. And when one of us is in need the family is there to distract us from our “scanxiety,” visit us in the hospital or just provide some kind and understanding words when cancer and all its potential setbacks have got us down. Finding my First Descents family and getting to know them has completely changed my life. They’ve not only made my life feel less lonely, they’ve also taught me how to really live.

For young adults with cancer “YOLO” is not a hollow overused hashtag. Every one of us, no matter the cancer, the stage or the treatment has been forced to peel back the curtain on life to reveal that it is not the magically invincible thing we once imagined but rather a fragile and vulnerable creature. We know that sometimes there are things we just cannot control and, unfortunately, whether we get to live to be 35 or 95 is one of them.

I remember the day I realized that my cancer could kill me. It was a few months after my diagnosis and I was finally dusting off the remnants of denial and realizing that I could not just take some medicine and make cancer magically disappear. I found myself trying to Google my way into a guaranteed survival realizing that it was an impossible task. Medical journals like to describe my diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer with phrases like, “poor prognosis,” “highest rates of recurrence,” and “most aggressive.” No one, not even Google, could guarantee I would still be around in 5 years.

Getting to have children someday, pursue a career and grow old with my husband were not things I had previously considered I might be denied. But young adults who have had or have cancer get it. We are guaranteed nothing. And so we embrace the days we have. I have friends who hike up mountains carrying coolers full of medicine so they don’t miss their treatments along the way; friends who have gone rock climbing, surfing or kayaking with cancer in their brains, their livers, their ovaries, their lungs; friends who have fought against a cancer that keeps coming back or doctors who wanted to give up; friends who have lost their ability to speak, to read, to write, to walk, to dance, and even to eat, to cancer but who still refuse to miss out on life’s joys.

One of my friends, without cancer, once told me that I made her feel stronger because she knew that if I could get through this then she could as well. That is how I feel about my fellow young adult cancer survivors and fighters and my extended First Descents family. They make me stronger and braver and better. They make me feel like I am not alone. And they remind me to not take anyone or any life for granted, especially not my own.











HeadshotKatie (Crush) Campbell is originally from Michigan and currently lives with her partner, her dog and her cat in Washington, DC. By day she works on international food policy at ActionAid USA which gives her the opportunity to travel all over the world. By night and on the weekends Crush can be found in her local climbing gym, biking, hiking or camping with friends, playing around with one of her many cameras or whipping up a delicious vegan meal.