For most young adults finishing treatment, many important aspects of life have been affected or interrupted, such as relationships, educational plans, undesired body changes, career goals, family planning, etc. On top of this are treatment-related side effects that can linger for years, as well as the constant worry of recurrence. As treatment finishes, a young adult often moves from a highly structured network of care providers and resources to an unstructured system with very little guidance or navigation tools.
Increasing attention has been focused on the transition or “re-entry” phase from a cancer diagnosis and treatment to survivorship, which can be especially challenging. In fact, this group has been labeled “lost in transition” by an Institute of Medicine report. We recognize that young adult cancer survivors experience numerous re-entries and transitions regardless of how long it’s been since treatment ended, and the chance of getting “lost” remains high. Therefore, any person who was diagnosed with cancer and is currently between the ages of 18-39 is eligible to participate on a True North Trek.
Participants often ask what will occur on a trek, and our response is simple – helping survivors recalibrate their life compasses, which have been demagnetized by cancer. We focus on three powerful forces to accomplish this: 1) re-connecting to nature by spending time in beautiful, remote wilderness areas 2) re-connecting to ourselves through learning and practicing mindfulness meditation, and 3) Connecting with peers who have been through cancer as well through the shared experience of a trek.
We believe that learning actual outdoor survival skills is a powerful metaphor in the transition from being a “person with cancer” to being a “survivor of cancer.”Participants develop new skills that enable them to be comfortable in the outdoors and connect with the natural environment around them. Through gaining increased confidence, flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity, participants learn to navigate the “outdoor environment” and not only find the way, but choose the way.
As we grow older, it is easy to fill our time with activity; becoming busier, multitasking throughout the day, and being less connected to ourselves. A stressful event like a cancer diagnosis and treatment can also be disconnecting. Mindfulness awareness is a way to slow down and re-connect to our whole selves through deliberate practice. Developing MAPs (Mindful Awareness Practices) helps one to live more intentionally, which increases appreciation and sustained connection to the present moment.MAPs equip us with the ability to respond to stress and adversity instead of reacting to it. Through gaining greater awareness and acceptance for one’s self and others, participants learn to navigate their own “indoor environment,” and to know where they are, moment by moment.
2010 was a big year for True North Treks as we took our first trek to the backcountry of Northern Montana and Idaho with six young adult cancer survivors who shared an amazing trek experience with us. We also became a member organization of the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s Young Adult Alliance, and our Program Director, Melanie Richmond, attended on TNT’s behalf at their annual conference in Austin.
Our ultimate goal is to provide scholarship assistance and make our programs free of charge for those who cannot pay. Participants who receive scholarships pledge to “pay it forward” to a future participant by raising the scholarship assistance they received ($1500-$2000) within a one year period following their trek. We provide fundraising support for our alumni, including personalized donation websites, fundraising tips and strategies, and promotion through our Facebook page. One New York City alum even spent over five minutes in the Atlantic Ocean during a “Polar Plunge” fundraiser for TNT on New Years’ Day!
Currently, we’re gearing up to “Own the Night” at Schweitzer Ski Lodge and Resort in Sandpoint, Idaho on February 26th, where the majority of lift ticket proceeds will go to support our programs, and busy planning our 2011 treks as well. If you’re interested in going on a trek, getting involved as a volunteer, or making a donation, please contact Melanie Richmond at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you!
True North Treks