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River Discovery: Restoring the spirit of cancer survivors

River Discovery takes a group on a six day trip down the Salmon River each summer.

On a warm but quiet Tuesday morning on Quinn’s Pond, a group of ten cancer survivors is getting ready to put their paddle boards into the water.

Watching over them from the beach is Alicia Rosales, a clinical social worker at St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute and the president of the board of River Discovery. “Our mission is to inspire, empower and heal cancer survivors and those who love them,” explains Rosales.

Doctors and patients work together to heal the body, River Discovery works to heal the spirit.

Like morning paddleboarding, River Discovery has several programs during the summer months, but the biggest is a six-day trip down the Salmon River in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

Molly O’Donnell, a 9-year survivor of Leukemia, was on this year’s trip. “It was 85 miles of beautiful white water. Awesome! Great people. Great conversation. Lots of laughs. Lots of memories. Lots of friendships,” said Molly.

The river journey reminds cancer survivors why they are fighting. Why life is worth the fight. Molly continued, “It's just really nice to talk to someone who says, 'me too.' Someone who gets it.”

Rosales remembers one experience on the Salmon River trip:

“I Would send our participants out into this beautiful piece of land and say, 'Go find something, whatever you're called to and write about it.' And so they did. And they came back and a young woman who was a metastatic breast cancer patient -- still in treatment -- I said, 'Tell me what you found. What spoke to you?'

She said, 'Well, I picked the paddle board.' I said, 'What did the paddleboard say?'

And she said, "That I'm strong. And I can do this. And there's more to me than my cancer. And I don't have to be afraid."

That kind of life-changing moments is why Angela Nelson from Mountain America Credit Union presented Rosales and River Discovery with a $500 Pay It Forward.

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