Reclaiming Your Body & Confidence Program Summary

~Liz Hiles

The first of our four-part Mental Health series for 2022 started off with a bang. Kristin McMaster, MSW, Mental Health Resource Specialist for First Descents joined us for this special program.

Kristin started out by talking about the psycho-social impacts of going through cancer treatment and her professional background in oncology and working specifically with adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer patients and survivors. She explained that a lot of the issues that crop up for cancer patients happen after treatment is over because so many people go on “autopilot” and kick into survival mode. Therefore, they don’t really deal with the psycho-social issues as they arise. Many AYA cancer survivors deal with a lot of these issues for the rest of their lives.

Engaging in adventure trips is a great way to get assistance in reclaiming your body and physical power while bonding with others who have been through similar experiences. There are a lot of groups that focus specifically on the AYA population, however, there are some that welcome all cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers to their programs. If something smaller and closer to home is more your speed, do not discount other adventure experiences. Many non-descript adventure trip companies have the ability to adapt trips to your needs if you contact them directly and talk with them about your physical needs and limitations.

Post-cancer, many people feel like their body is foreign to them. Kristin used the term “zombie” to describe the feeling. We’ve been through horrible treatments, and our bodies have experienced a number of traumas by the time we get to the other side of treatment and are deemed NED (No Evidence of Disease). It is only natural for our self-esteem and body image to take a hit with all that we’ve been through, even if you started out with strong self-esteem!

There’s been a lot of research done, and more than half of all cancer survivors report struggling with body image and self-esteem. These things can impact your life, mental health, how you feel about yourself, confidence, and how you interact and relate to other people

Many experience fatigue, neuropathy, and other ongoing side effects. Your body may not be able to do what it once did. Know this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN YOUR STRUGGLES.

Eighty-one percent of First Descents’ participants reported increased self-efficacy after their adventure trip. Challenging your body at your own pace, pushing your limitations, and bonding with others all contribute to this improved self-view. In turn, these things help increase resiliency and help individuals reconnect to their own bodies while learning to adapt and overcome the challenges they have come to have.

Even if you physically are unable to do an adventure trip, just being outdoors and walking or swimming can give you similar experiences and benefits. Being surrounded by nature, and immersed in wilderness spaces, helps people feel better.

Other aspects of the First Descents programs that help people move through their negative self-image and body thoughts include writing/journaling, mindfulness, and meditation. They incorporate these things into their morning schedule. There have also been studies in these areas of practice that have proven that incorporating these things into your regular routines shows immense benefits.

Kristin shared that the three pillars of transformation are (1) reclaiming your physical body, (2) finding a community, and (3) rebuilding your self-esteem and confidence.

We explored and shared as a group the things that we have experienced and overcome as well as how our bodies have changed and come through resiliently. We also shared ways to change the internal dialogue and how we want to encourage our bodies to become stronger. To see what was shared or anonymously add to it, go here.

You can see the entire recorded session here.

We have our monthly Community Meetup TONIGHT at 7 pm. We hope to see you there. As always, it is free and open to everyone, but registration is required and can be found here.

We hope to see you Thursday, May 12th at 7 pm for part two of the series: Let’s Talk About Sex & Cancer with Dr. Dana Kirkpatrick. You can register here for this special program. To see the descriptions for the remaining three sessions, click here.

Don’t forget to pre-register for our fourth annual Global Virtual Cancer Conference (GVCC) here. We have a call for speakers out right now. If you or someone you know would like to present, please share the information and apply SOON!. Click here for more information.

Other Adventure Resources for you:
Sierra Club Outings
Walk with a Doc Program

Epic Experience:(*Gryt Health Partner organization)
Camp Raising Spirits – open to adults with cancer who are 18+years of age and one guest
Maui Cancer Wellness Retreats –
Live by Living –
Camp Good Days – Overall geared towards families, but they do have adult oncology programs –
Camp Mak-a-Dream – various adult programs for adults with cancer and caregivers.
River Discovery –
Bluebird Cancer Retreats
Bravehearts – an oncology camp for women
Reel Discovery – men’s flyfishing adventures

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