Visit True North Treks Website – http://www.truenorthtreks.org/

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At True North Treks, we help teens & young adults with cancer find direction through connection after the very dis-connecting experience cancer can bring. We fulfill our mission through implementing unique and supportive healthcare programs and services that are not available anywhere else. With a little help and guidance from the STARS, we do this through Skills Training, Advocacy, Resources and Support.


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Week-Long Canoeing and Backpacking “Treks” in Nature. One of our signature programs is providing free, week-long backpacking & canoeing treks in remote and beautiful backcountry wilderness destinations across the United States, including Montana, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Wyoming, Minnesota, and Michigan. During our treks, participants are able to fully connect with the quiet and restorative balance of nature (after going through something as unnatural as cancer treatment), experience the powerful sense of finding and connecting with others their age who have also faced something similar, and they can encounter a more profound understanding of themselves through learning valuable meditative practices based in mindfulness and yoga. We try to make everything we do and teach on these wilderness treks directly applicable to the wilderness of cancer survivorship back home especially as it relates to positive health behaviors, prevention, and coping.

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Week-long treks are led by Wilderness Outdoor First Responder (WOFR)-credentialed guides, as well as a meditation/yoga instructor guides. Because we operate in the backcountry for 5-6 day experiences, we are only permitted to bring between 10-14 individuals (including guides), therefore our experiences are extremely intimate, and the impact is deep and long-lasting. Please see “Treks” up in the menu for more specific information about upcoming treks and frequently asked questions.

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Mini-Treks and Micro-Treks. Since our founding we knew that to reach and support as many teens and young adults with cancer as possible, we would need to continue to grow and expand beyond these week-long treks, but still in a mission-congruent manner. Due to feedback and suggestions from our constituents that not all eligible participants are able to take off a week to travel to the remote wilderness, we have launched two shorter duration treks: Mini-Treks, and Micro-Treks.

Mini-Treks are regionally based and take place over a long-weekend (e.g., Thursday night to Sunday morning). Unlike our week-long treks, Mini-Treks are held in beautiful wilderness cabins, lodges and retreat facilities where participants can sleep indoors in a bed or cot and have access to indoor plumbing. Mini-Treks still allow for daytime excursions such as hiking, canoeing, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, etc., and still provide a place for the mindfulness meditation and yoga curriculum to occur. In 2016 we will offer two Mini-Treks (one for young adult cancer survivors, and another for oncology care providers), which will take place in a lakeside retreat lodge in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan just 5 hours from Chicago. Overtime, we plan to expand these mini-treks throughout the country, which we feel will help us to significantly expand our programming and direct impact, as it will allow greater numbers of eligible survivors to take part.


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Micro-Treks. To meet our goal of bringing the essential elements of our unique programming wherever a person is, we have also created the “Micro-Treks” program, which we have begun piloting here in the Greater Chicago land area. While many people may think of a large metropolis like Chicago as an urban jungle full of skyscrapers, noise pollution and traffic jams, through its vast system of Forest Preserves, Chicago actually boasts over 300 miles of paved and unpaved trails through beautiful, natural forestland. It can take just minutes to escape the daily grid of city living to find oneself surrounded by the peace and tranquility of a forest, river, or inland lake, and trail system that is used for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and more. Using the riches of our local Forest Preserves, we have previously led 1-2 hour afternoon trail hikes with groups of cancer survivors, as well as group-based kayak excursions with oncology care providers along the Chicago River with our partner Kayak Chicago. A consistent part of all of our micro-treks is to not only engage in the outdoor activity with others, but to also integrate the practice of mindfulness meditation and gentle yoga. Sometimes this even happens by just sitting in our kayaks and noticing every aspect of the Chicago River cityscape at dusk. As we are able to, we plan to launch more and more Micro-Treks across the country within similar forest preserves.

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Long-term Survivorship Support. Over the years we have really seen the need to provide the type of wellness and health promotion support that we offer on our treks to teens and young adults who have returned home. That is why we offer free support, education, and resources to our alumni for the rest of their lives. This includes 1-1 health promotion coaching and referral information for psychosocial support, available young adult cancer programs, and resources for financial counseling, fertility preservation, and available clinical trials for teens and young adults.

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In-Hospital Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga. With our partners at the Ann and Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital Chicago and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, we offer free mindfulness meditation to teens and young adults with cancer and their caregivers. For more information, please see: http://www.truenorthtreks.org/mindfulness-classes-at-cancer-treatment-centers.html

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ad·vo·ca·cy (ˈadvəkəsē/): The act of pleading for, supporting, educating, or recommending solutions to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions.

In addition to providing a wide variety of skills training and support to teens and young adults with cancer, we spend a lot of time advocating on their behalf, and on behalf of this movement. From social media campaigns and small living room gatherings, to large public speaking events attended by public officials and policy-makers, we raise awareness and interest for this cause by educating others on the plight of young adult cancer and the tangible, actionable things that we can do to change the narrative.

Founder and Director David Victorson recently participated in the “One Voice Against Cancer” Lobby Day in Washington DC on behalf of True North Treks, where he met with congress members and their staffers to advocate for increased NIH research funding for teens and young adults with cancer.


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Research and Evaluation

Many prominent leaders in this movement have said that “research is the key” to making a noticeable change for this population. We know the inconvenient truths that cancer incidence has increased more with this group than any other age group, that survival rates have not improved at the same rate as other age groups, and that cancer has become the number one disease killer in teens and young adults. They are the most underserved patient population by age and their clinical trial participation is significantly lower than any other age group with no “young adult cancer clinical research” program available by grant-giving institutions. Giving money to traditional national cancer support organizations will most likely not help a young adult with cancer.

True North Treks Founder and Director, David Victorson, is a cancer researcher in the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in the Department of Medical Social Sciences. A licensed health psychologist by training, his research focuses on improving the quality of life of people diagnosed with cancer through studying the effects of mindfulness meditation, yoga, and other psychosocial supports during and following treatment. His research lab recently received a multi-million dollar grant from the National Cancer Institute to study the effects of mindfulness training in older men with prostate cancer, and his team is completing one of the first known randomized clinical trials of mindfulness meditation and yoga for young adult cancer survivors. He is very close to this field and can attest that compared to other age groups, it is extremely challenging to receive funding to support research focusing on teens and young adults with cancer, as it simply does not exist in the same way it does for other groups.

For this reason, True North Treks has made it a part of its mission to also provide research support to organizations that serve this demographic wherever possible. Over the past several years True North Treks has assisted the nonprofit organization “Stupid Cancer” in evaluating its program outcomes, which has been presented at national young adult cancer conferences. Given True North Trek’s partnerships with different cancer centers and medical schools at Northwestern University and throughout the country, a longer term goal is to one day support early career cancer researchers who focus on teens and young adults with pilot grant funding to help them kick start their programs and contribute to this desperately needed body of research evidence that can make a true difference.

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Click here to see the rest of Elephants and Tea’s partners and their resources for living with cancer!


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