With roughly 70,000 new diagnoses per year, cancer is the most aggressive, disease-related cause of death in young adults today.

Imagine for a moment what it must feel like to be in your prime and receive the most devastating news…   

That’s what happened to Gabriel, who became one of the roughly 70,000 new diagnoses per year of the most aggressive, disease-related cause of death in his age bracket—cancer.

Because of his illness, Gabriel faced many challenges, including depression and low self-esteem, making it incredibly difficult for him to connect with his family and friends.

If only he had a way to express himself and join a community that knows just how he feels.   

Enter First Descents.

What is First Descents?

First Descents (FD) is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults (ages 18 – 39) impacted by cancer and other serious health conditions.

The ultimate goal of First Descents is to help increase self-esteem, body image, and self-compassion, as well as alleviate the alienation, depression, and fatigue often associated with having the disease.

The mission of First Descents is to address the needs of one of the fastest-growing and most underserved age demographics in oncology by providing entirely free, life-changing outdoor adventures to young adults impacted by cancer and other serious health conditions.

History

Since 2001, First Descents (FD) has been supporting the physical, mental, and emotional health of young adults living with and surviving cancer.

The founder of FD is Brad Ludden.

Inspired by his aunt’s successful battle against cancer, Brad, a professional kayaker and future CNN Hero Award Winner, founded FD in 2001 at just 18 years old.

Ludden acted upon a vision to build up FD as an outdoor adventure outlet that provides physical, mental, and emotional support for one of the most underserved age demographics in oncology—young adults living with and surviving cancer.

The inaugural adventure trip saw 10 cancer survivors brave the Colorado River aboard whitewater kayaks. By 2011, 27 outdoor programs were changing the lives of 283 people—a number that nearly doubled in the next year.

Nearly two decades of life-changing adventures later—and no signs of slowing.

Project Examples

There’s an adventure for everyone.

From a single day of local indoor climbing to a week-long white water kayaking adventure, FD provides a variety of program types that meet the individual needs of participants, allowing individuals to get out on a program as soon as possible.

From a single day of local indoor climbing to a week-long white water kayaking adventure, FD provides various program types that meet the individual needs of participants, allowing individuals to get involved in a program as soon as possible.

No previous “adventuring” experience? No problem!

1. Week-Long Programs

First Descents Adventures
First Descents Adventures

FD often welcomes first-timers into their community through multi-day outdoor programs that test participants’ limits, build friendships, and promote individual growth.

Programs are set in breathtakingly spectacular settings across the nation, and may include:

  • Kayaking through the Oregonian wilderness
  • Surfing the Outer Banks of North Carolina
  • Rafting Class 3 rapids on the Colorado River
  • Mountain biking in San Francisco’s backyard
  • Climbing adventures at Rocky Mountain National Park

2. Local Adventure Communities

First-timers and FD alumni may join in on one-day or multi-day outdoor adventures at a local level.

Currently, over 18 FD hubs in select cities (such as Pittsburgh, Detroit, Boston, New York City, and Phoenix) offer regional programming, monthly meetups, and events throughout the year.

3. International Adventure Programs

FD alumni are eligible to participate in the ultimate adventure experience—one that takes place across the globe—and introduces a select few to multi-sport pursuits in areas like:

  • Thailand (caving and rappelling)
  • The mountains of Patagonia (whitewater rafting class V rapids)
  • The Italian Alps (rock climbing and hiking)
  • Ireland (sea kayaking in between historic castle visits)
First Descents Hiking Adventures
First Descents Hiking Adventures

Impact and Future Plans

FD’s figures now boast more than 1,500 unique experiences that take place annually, and the organization’s mission and goals only continue to evolve.

In 2018, FD launched a pilot program for multiple sclerosis (MS) that now offers rock climbing and whitewater rafting adventures to young adults impacted by MS.

FD also plans to expand some of their most recent initiatives:

  • Three more FD programs for young adults impacted by MS are planned in 2019.
  • The launch of FD’s Prescribe Adventure campaign, which introduces FD to patients closer to the time of their diagnosis. Hundreds of healthcare professionals and partners are already enlisted.

Interest is high for what FD has to offer, but they can’t accommodate everybody, and there’s a waitlist!

The organization holds many fundraising events—from climbathons and marathons to annual balls—that help them grow and expand their reach.

First Descents Climbathons
First Descents Climbathons

How to Donate

  1. First, sign up for a Giving Assistant account
  2. Select First Descents on your Giving Assistant account settings menu
  3. Choose how much of your balance from cash-back rewards you’d like to donate
  4. Then next time you shop using Giving Assistant and earn cash back you’ll automatically donate your set percentage to First Descents

Giving Assistant members interested in donating to First Descents can choose just a portion (or all!) of their cash back earnings to go to First Descents.

If you need more help then you can see how to use Giving Assistant to shop online and donate to a nonprofit here – https://givingassistant.org/how-it-works

If you haven’t already you can also download the Giving Assistant button cash back extension for your desktop browser.

Get the Giving Assistant browser extension

This will help you to start easily support the First Descents nonprofit AND save money on your everyday online purchases at thousands of online retailers.

Not a member yet? Sign up here to start supporting First Descents as you shop online.

If you’d like to learn more about the impact First Descents is making in young adults with cancer, visit FirstDescents.org