Rock climbing camp builds community, strength for young adult cancer survivors
by Charli Engelhorn
contributing writer
Oct 11, 2012 | 1420 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Fifteen young adult cancer survivors came to Moab last month for a rock climbing camp organized by First Descents, a Denver-based organization that provides outdoor adventure opportunities for young adults who are fighting cancer.

The program is designed to help the participants reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same, according to the group’s website.

The organization conducts trips across the globe, including 50 different locations in North, Central, and South America. The Moab camp is now an annual event, organizers said.

“The trip was amazing. The coolest thing was there was such a sense of community among the participants... We all understood how each other felt and had similar experiences,” said Kelsey Tanner, a 24-year-old cancer survivor from Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Tanner was diagnosed this summer with kidney cancer. But she calls herself “lucky,” explaining that she had a tumor removed from her right kidney but did not require chemotherapy or radiation.

In Moab, the group spent most of their time rock climbing along Wall Street on state Route 279, according to Jordan Forney, First Descents program director. They also toured Arches National Park and spent their final day rapelling in the backcountry before ending the camp with a graduation ceremony.

“It is challenge by choice. We don’t force anyone to do anything, but we give them the opportunity to put themselves outside of their comfort zones and explore that and grow,” said Forney. “It is a great medium, the adventure. I think some people would misinterpret us as a guide trip. But we use the adventure as a medium to interact and share life stories. It provides a physical and emotional outlet, and everyone supports each other.”

First Descents trips are for people between the ages of 19 and 39. Forney said this age group is often underserved as far as visibility and support for cancer patients and survivors.

“This age group shows up with a lot of things going on in their lives. This is a period of transition for most of them, and they can all relate to each other,” Forney said. “When [the founder] was looking at the market for helping people with cancer, there was a gap in this age group, and that is why they were chosen.”

Tanner said there were many emotional moments among the participants, including coming to terms with the differences between their bodies before and after cancer.

“I think more than anything, cancer proved to me how strong I am and how strong I could be. There was a whole world of possibility I hadn’t thought of before,” Tanner said. “This trip was an extension of that... I can be a rock climber if I want to be. I can do what my body is capable of so much more than I thought I could do.”

For more information about First Descents, visit

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