Wednesday, September 04, 2013

First Descents Part I

taken by my buddy black swan
So I've been home from my trip for over a week now and I miss it (though I do love being with my family)!

It was an amazing week. I did a lot of things I didn't think I'd be able to do. My right arm held up pretty well during the week, which made me very happy !

The actual First Descents Trip was Sunday-Friday, though with my train travel factored in, I was away Saturday - Saturday. While I realize train travel isn't for everyone, it was good for me to have that time on the train! It gave me time (on the way there) to get that space from home. Some of my kiddos were crying as my train left, and oh my goodness, did that tug at my heart so very much! So the train trip there was kind of my, okay, I'm leaving my family, to go on what may be a crazy trip and I just need a bit of breathing space between the two. And also, it was a lot of time to knit, so that's always a win in my book!

Sunday was the first official day of the trip and when I got to meet everyone. I'm not sure if I looked as nervous as I felt, but I was crazy anxious inside. All for nothing though as everyone was awesome (even if they did tease me for the way I say awesome. ;-) What can I say, if you hear me speak you will not doubt I've spent my entire life in the Chicago area!) Also Sunday I had my first taste of the amazing food we had all week long. Oh my, was I spoiled so much this week, especially with the food. Just thinking about it makes me hungry. And, oh yeah, we had to have nicknames. Um, I've never had a nickname really before so I wasn't sure what to pick, but I ended up going with Stitches, which feels so perfect to me.

my kayak for the week
Monday started off in an exciting way. I'll spare you details but will say it involved termites in the room, in my bed, in my roommate's bed and in some of my luggage (side note: this was in no way the fault of First Descents and was handled promptly, but it happened. And I won't ever forget it. LOL!)

 Monday was also the first day on the water. Water. I have kind of a love/hate relationship with water. I like being in the water. I hate getting in the water. And I hate being wet when I'm not in the water. My children can attest to the fact that it takes me a million years to get into the pool. In hindsight, this is probably not the best combination for a white water kayaking trip, but somehow I managed and got all wet. I might have been shivering (naturally, I was cold because I am almost always cold!) but I submerged in the water not once, but several times that day. Including when I practiced exiting the kayak in case I flipped over. I should mention here that the thought of flipping the kayak freaked me out. I was positive I would forget how to get out and die. Because I have anxiety (as if I needed to state that) and can often figure out how things I do will lead to death. But, I did it. And I didn't freak out. And I didn't die. I actually did what I was supposed to and it was fine.

surfing a little rapid in my kayak
Surfing a (small) rapid on the second day. Pic by Val
In addition to kayaking on Monday, we also did some rock skipping, some minor rock climbing and swimming. We had two separate times out in the kayak ... it was a bit chilly for my liking, but it turns out, I really love kayaking and the chilly weather just became a moot point while we were on the water! But seriously, I love kayaking! There was something about being on the water that was just amazing. I'm not the best kayaker, I'm not the fastest, I can't really go in a straight line no matter how hard I try, if I tried hard rapids I would probably kill myself, but I love it! With a lot of sports I feel uncoordinated and awkward. I did have some of that on this trip too, but often times I didn't - like when they would say lean this way, I'd think, well, yeah, that makes sense and is what I want to do (not always though!) and so it was kind of nice!  Paddling was hard, especially on my arm. I really pushed myself to my limits several times - which also felt great! In the moment it was hard and I maybe wanted to cry, but when I made it through, I was like Oh yeah baby! I did it! There is some power in feeling that way! There is a lot of emotion wrapped up in this too.

lake and rocks
the view during lunch on Friday
For the last two years I have viewed my body as broken, as unreliable. I've been disappointed in it and felt betrayed by it. It's not just the cancer itself - though it's a big part. There's this whole push and pull to having had breast cancer that is hard for me to describe. My breasts, which fed each of my babies for over a year, these things which were the only source of food for them for more than a few months, which is really magical to me - that my body was able to grow life and then after giving birth, keep that life fed and healthy! And then in the blink of eye, these breasts need to be removed because they're dangerous and bad. Talk about head spinning and trying to figure out how to link those two, opposite things together. I haven't even really dealt much with that part of it, other than to be jaded I had cancer. Then you get into the post-treatment issues: the fatigue, the anemia, the joint pain, the just downright exhaustion, the mood swings, the periods from hell, the hot flashes, low blood cell counts, lymphedema, pain, the list goes on and on. I've really disliked my body for most of the last two years. I haven't felt powerful or strong, except in a few fleeting moments.

picture by Val
But the whole week of this trip, I just felt strong. My body did some pretty amazing things! This body of mine isn't perfect but you know, it's not down for the count either. I'm going to try to remember this and hold on to this feeling as long as possible. Because this body is the only one I've got. I could be really angry about this and frustrating (which I will probably still do from time to time) or I can accept it - the good and the bad. I think all of this clicked Tuesday, after paddling through a particularly difficult section, one in which I was positive I wouldn't get through, until I was through.

This was followed by starting to learn to roll. Voluntarily. Me. Wanting to be flipped upside down in the water in an effort to learn to roll myself back over. I mean, really, I can say that on this trip I literally learned to roll with it. Alright, I didn't actual figure out how to roll by myself, but I worked hard on it and made some progress!

Great Falls from the Maryland side
Great Falls from the Maryland side
In addition to kayaking and rolling with it, we went and saw Great Falls. We also got to see two of our instructors/leaders kayak on it. Ah. Mazing. I'm not sure that even if I kayaked everyday for the rest of my life, I'd be ready to kayak down the falls, but they are gorgeous and it was pretty fun to watch others do it! And did I mention how gorgeous it was? I do not get enough nature on my own (something I absolutely need to fix!) because nature rocks. And there's something very grounding about being out in it.

Me, in front of the White House
in front of the White House!
Wednesday morning was all about going into DC and sightseeing. We had a lovely tour guide who was a wealth of knowledge. Now, I went to DC as a field trip in 8th grade (a week long field trip LOL) and it was fun, but I didn't appreciate it or listen or pay enough attention. It was so great to get to go back as adult, and to be there with such awesome people. We might have giggled together a lot like we were back in 8th grade, but it was so fun! There was definitely a lightness there (for me) that hasn't been there for far too long. It was great! (Related: I would love to go back to DC for more than a morning. I'd love to take the kids there and really talk about history and politics today)

Phew! I'm leaving off there for now, but will write about the rest of the trip later! Apparently, I have a lot to say about this.


Part II is here!

For those of you not familiar, First Descents "offers young adult cancer fighters and survivors  a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them to climb, paddle and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same.n organization that provides trips like mine to young adult cancer patients." It is an amazing not-for-profit organization that is wonderful. Head on over to their website to learn more about them!  


  1. Look at you go! That looks like fun!

  2. >> This body of mine isn't perfect but you know, it's not down for the count either. I'm going to try to remember this and hold on to this feeling as long as possible. <<<

    This is such a great sentiment. I'm so glad this was such an amazing experience for you.

  3. Looks like such a great trips. Good on you for learning to roll! ~Catherine


Seeing your comments makes me smile! Thank you so much =)