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

Enter First Descents.

What is First Descents?

First Descents 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.

What is the Goal?

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.

A Little History…

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

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

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—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.

No previous “adventuring” experience? No problem!

Guides with tremendous know-how provide the adaptive programming and expert instruction necessary to participate in one of First Descents’ local, regional, national or international programs such as:

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)

4. Medical Center Partnerships

Joining forces with regional hospitals and clinics, such as Dana Farber in Boston, First Descents partners with healthcare providers to create custom weekend programs for first-timers and alumni who wish to experience First Descents, but are unable to attend programs due to treatment schedules, health concerns, or family and work responsibilities.

How First Descents Helps

Programs run by First Descents use a combination of skills development, challenging adventures, and forging connections with peers in the same boat.

First Descents Hiking Adventures
First Descents Hiking Adventures

“Experience the healing power of adventure.”

Run the rapids in San Marcos. Bike the Florida Keys. Climb the Cascade Mountains

Over the years, First Descents programs have proven their worth. According to a University of Michigan study conducted in 2015, First Descents participants experience a reconnection to their bodies, feel more resilient, and regain confidence in their physical abilities.

  • 100% of participants report increased ability to cope with cancer and its effects.
  • 99% of participants want to stay involved in FD programs.
  • Participants experiencing depression post-program dropped by 10%.

Who Can Use First Descents Services?

First Descents programs are for individuals ages 18-39, diagnosed at age 15 or older.

Lodging, food, gear, and activities during programs are free.

First Descents also awards travel scholarships to anyone unable to afford transportation to program locations.

An onsite medic is present during all adventure programs to provide individualized care to participants.

Emergency response plans explicitly tailored to program sites are also in place.

First Descents additionally ensures quality attention and care by not exceeding 15 participants in a single venture.

Impact and Future Plans

First Descents figures now boast more than 1,500 unique experiences taking place annually.

Plus the organization’s mission and goals continue to evolve.

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

First Descents Climbathons
First Descents Climbathons

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.

How to Donate

  1. First sign up for a Giving Assistant account
  2. Select First Descent 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 Descent

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 Descent nonprofit AND save money on your everyday online purchases at thousands of online retailers.

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