The Healing Power of Adventure: First Descents & AYA Survivorship

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While cancer can affect anyone, regardless of age, the Adolescent & Young Adult (AYA) patient population can experience heightened distress & challenges compared to other age groups.

As we discussed in Ep. 243 with Scott Capozza, the AYA patient population experiences unique issues compared to our older patients.  However, these issues are frequently overlooked & underserved, leading to potentially lifelong challenges.

Some of these challenges & life transitions include:

  • Financial/career fluctuations & instability
  • Fertility/family planning
  • Lost earnings
  • Decreased ability to contribute to savings
  • & many more

Worse yet, these patients often discuss being “dropped off a cliff” once they finish treatment.  They attempt to return to “normal life,” but report feeling alone, abandoned, struggling, anxious, depressed, & other psychological issues.  What they need is ongoing psychosocial supportive care.

Enter First Descents.

First Descents is an organization bringing the healing power of outdoor adventures to young adults affected by cancer.  They offer week-long programs with kayaking, surfing, & rock climbing.  By immersing participants in nature and fostering a supportive community, First Descents aims to enhance their physical and emotional well-being.

Today, Kristin McMaster of First Descents is on TheOncoPT Podcast to discuss the impact of First Descents, how incorporating outdoor activities is so beneficial for our AYA survivors, & how to connect your patients with First Descents.

First Descents overview

First Descents was established in 2001 by professional kayaker Brad Ludden, who witnessed the transformative power of outdoor activities firsthand. Inspired by his aunt’s battle with cancer, Ludden recognized the unique needs and struggles faced by young cancer patients. He realized that traditional medical treatments alone often failed to address the emotional and psychological aspects of their healing journey.

First Descents primarily focuses on serving adolescents and young adults (ages 18-39) who are facing cancer diagnoses. This age group faces unique challenges during their cancer journey, including the transition from adolescence to adulthood, educational pursuits, career aspirations, and personal relationships. The organization recognizes that the needs of young cancer patients extend beyond medical treatment and aims to address their holistic well-being through outdoor adventures.

Challenges and Struggles

Adolescents and young adults with cancer often experience isolation and a sense of being caught between the worlds of pediatric and adult oncology. They may struggle to find peers who understand their experiences, as cancer is often associated with older individuals. Additionally, this age group faces specific issues related to body image, fertility, independence, and maintaining a sense of normalcy in their lives while undergoing treatment.

Creating a Supportive Community

First Descents recognizes the power of community and the importance of peer support in the healing process. Through its programs, the organization creates a safe and inclusive environment where young cancer patients can connect with others who share similar experiences. Participants form lasting friendships, bonds, and support networks that extend beyond their time in the programs.

Empowerment Through Shared Experiences

First Descents utilizes outdoor adventures and physical activities as a means to empower young cancer patients. By engaging in activities like rock climbing, surfing, and hiking, participants are encouraged to step outside their comfort zones, challenge themselves, and discover their inner strength. These experiences instill a sense of accomplishment, boost self-confidence, and provide a newfound perspective on their own capabilities and resilience.

Moreover, by engaging in these activities together, participants learn from one another, celebrate milestones, and create shared memories. They gain inspiration from fellow participants who have faced similar challenges and witness firsthand the possibilities for growth and recovery. This sense of camaraderie and shared experiences helps combat the feelings of isolation and empowers young cancer patients to embrace life beyond their diagnosis.

In summary, First Descents works with adolescents and young adults with cancer, recognizing and addressing the unique challenges they face. By creating a supportive community and facilitating transformative outdoor adventures, the organization empowers these individuals, fosters resilience, and enhances their overall well-being.

Learn more about First Descents:

Learn more about AYA Oncology & Survivorship:

Check out Scott Capozza’s AYA courses on Medbridge!

Scott Capozza has THREE amazing new courses out on Medbridge that you don’t want to miss:

  • Adolescents & Young Adults (AYAs) Living with Cancer: What to Know
  • Rehabilitation Management of Adolescents & Young Adults With Cancer
  • Late Effects of Childhood Cancers

Save up to $150 on your Medbridge subscription with my affiliate code THEONCOPT! 

Until next time, this is Elise with TheOncoPT. And remember: you are exactly the physical therapist that your patients with cancer need. So let’s get to work.

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