Sherene "Lefty" Ricci and Lisa "Six-Pack" MacPherson rowing on Lake Powell toward Hite Marina. [Photo courtesy First Descents]

Max Allen and his friends are on a 75-day river trip. They began in Wyoming at the headwaters of the Green River just as the aspen leaves were turning. They were able to watch the cottonwoods turn as they passed through Lodore Canyon. Last week they tried to keep warm during a snowstorm in Cataract Canyon. Now they are on the final 27-day leg of their trip through the Grand Canyon.

As they take on this grand adventure, they are sharing the story of First Descents. It is a story of empowerment.

The organization offers young adult cancer fighters and survivors an outdoor adventure to experience to defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same.

Allen worked with First Descents on about 10 trips this year. He and his friend Lisa MacPherson, who both work at Outward Bound here in Moab, planned to do an extended river trip together. He thought about cancer survivors he had met through First Descents trips.

“I became friends with them and invited them on this adventure,” Allen said.

They have five cancer survivors are on the trip with them.

“A lot of young adults working through this journey of cancer find themselves doing it by themselves, or just with their family,” Allen said. “This is opportunity for a group of peers to work through it together.”

Cancer is often spoken like a dirty word, causing a pause in a conversation, or triggering friends and family to repeatedly use the words “I’m sorry.” Allen said it’s not like that on a First Descents’ trip.

“Cancer is not something their trying to hide on these trips. This is a place where people can be themselves,” Allen said. “They ask each other: ‘What did you have?’ ‘How did you work through it?’, ‘Did you do chemo?’ You can talk about it and not feel bad.”

He said they share scars and stories.

Sherene Ricci, one of the cancer survivors on the trip, lost her right leg to cancer. Each person on a First Descents’ trip gets a nickname. Hers is “Lefty”.

She smiled as she rowed the raft on Lake Powell to Hite Marina.

“She’s psyched,” Allen said. “She’s strong.”