Cancer Survivors Connect in an Outdoor Adventure

Rock-climbing helped these men find strength in themselves and in each other.


Posted in , Jun 30, 2015

Seven cancer survivors learned the power of saying "yes" while rock climbing together for the first time in Arizona.

Content provided by Cancer Treatment Centers of America

The power of saying “yes,” even in challenging situations, can be especially meaningful for cancer patients. The seven men in the above video found that out when an experience that took them wildly out of their comfort zone led them to a profoundly connected, spiritual place.

While rock-climbing together for the first time in October 2014, George Alan Rader, Ken Priest, Brock Royer, Wayne Reeder, Chris Urwiller, Robbie Robinson and Gary Hackney laughed about their collective mishaps and scraped knees. They also shared personal details about their cancer journeys. Each received treatment at one of Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s hospitals and found that sharing their survivor stories, and their week-long climbing adventure, had a positive impact on their lives.

The trek through Jack’s Canyon in Arizona was part of a project led by First Descents, a nonprofit that provides outdoor adventures for cancer survivors. “The experience is designed to allow healing to happen naturally and organically—no forced conversations and no structured group sessions or therapy,” First Descents says on its website.

Each of the seven men has overcome hardship and tragedy, on top of a cancer diagnosis. Hackney lost a child in a car accident. Robinson’s wife suffered a serious illness. Still, they found a way through the heartache, and emerged with a new perspective, appreciation and resiliency. Now they’re celebrating life’s milestones.

Priest and Rader recently marked their 40th wedding anniversaries. Robinson, an 11-year non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor, is a Cancer Fighters Ambassador who helps other survivors recognize their inner strength. And Reeder is relishing a new sense of well-being.

After the stress and worry of going five years without treatment for leukemia, Reeder saw a Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) commercial on Thanksgiving Day in 2011. Unable to swallow and scared for his future, he called CTCA®, where he found “help and hope,” he says.

A cancer diagnosis can be a devastating blow. But for these seven strangers, it was also the catalyst for a new friendship. The novice climbers dubbed themselves the “Silver Fox Climbing Brigade” and looked after one another through strained muscles and bloody elbows. They shared their stories in the First Descents video to inspire other cancer fighters to stay strong.

The footage shows what happened when the men were presented with a daunting challenge: to go out in the middle of nowhere and climb sheer canyon walls with strangers. They learned the power of “yes,” and they’ve never looked back.

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