Underwriting provided by:
The Laura Moore Cunningham
Foundation

River Discovery

Hitting the rapids on the Cabarton run of the Payette [Credit: River Discovery]
Hitting the rapids on the Cabarton run of the Payette
[Credit: River Discovery]

River Discovery is a Boise-based nonprofit founded in 2006 that takes cancer survivors, including children, on river-based retreats.

The group was founded by longtime rafting outfitters Joe and Fran Tonsmeire of Lemhi, Idaho. Fran is a breast cancer survivor and Joe died of cancer in 2007. Having experienced the restorative qualities of water, both wanted to provide the retreats for cancer patients.

"It's a healing thing to go on the river as a person without any ailments or survivorship," says Mary Bower, board president of River Discovery. "But it is incredible to bond with people of your own problems…and figuring out that you're strong enough to do the things that you didn't think you could."

Joe and Fran Tonsmeire, founders of River Discovery [Credit: River Discovery]
Joe and Fran Tonsmeire, founders of River Discovery
[Credit: River Discovery]

Today, the organization provides 1-6 day trips for participants. The one-day trips are free of charge and the longer trips are available for a nominal application fee. On the longer trips, attendees camp out and learn about the history of the river they're on. Health professionals accompany the group.

Outdoor Idaho joined participants on a one-day trip down the Payette River. The group, which was for children with cancer, also included family members.

"It is unique to our program because usually it is the survivors by themselves," says breast cancer survivor and volunteer Nicole Cassity. "It is important because sometimes the co-survivors get forgotten and it's really just as much their battle as it is the person fighting cancer."

Cabarton Run of the Payette [Credit: River Discovery]
Cabarton Run of the Payette
[Credit: River Discovery]

"You don't realize you need it until you come out here and then you are like, 'Okay, this is what you need,'" says Teresha Wheeler, the mother of a participant.

For some, it was their first rafting trip.

"I thought it was wonderful. It was amazing," said participant Kara Erickson, who has brain cancer. "It helps with the illness. It's a place where you can just forget about the cancer stuff."