“Good Evening. My name is Beth Silverman, although these days I go by
Stiletto. When I was asked to speak here this evening, I knew that it
would be a challenge. I knew that I would have to dig deep into my
soul to find the words that could somehow do justice to the elite
group of people gathered here tonight.
And although I am here to tell my story, my story is just one of many.
We all have a story. We all have a diagnosis. We all have the battle
scars that show the war we’ve waged against cancer. A war that some
have won, and some have lost, and others are left hanging in the
balance. Hanging by threads, by cords, by the skin of our teeth,
hanging by our boot straps we hold on and wait for the moment when we
can start living again; When we can peacefully inhabit a world full of
Hope, full of Courage, full of …A CURE. We travel on this path full
of hardships, obstacles, and unsteady terrain, ever swiftly moving,
placing one foot in front of the other– sometimes carefully executed,
other times with reckless abandon. We move through the motions, all
the while waiting for the answers, searching for the lesson.
If you told me the lesson was that fighting cancer would be a metaphor
for paddling a kayak I’d have swiftly kicked your ass with my
stiletto. But, you would have been right. Cancer tried to steal so
many things, and with a paddle and a kayak I stole them back. Cancer
tried to take my life, and First Descents showed me how to reclaim it,
and then live it to the fullest.
Before cancer living life to the fullest came easily for me. I was 26
years old and I ran a $25 million dollar business, while dating one of
Manhattan’s most eligible bachelors. I never got sick. Sick, was for
the vulnerable and the weak, of which I was neither. You can imagine
my shock when a marble sized lump introduced itself to me while I was
taking a shower. Ten days later I had an aggressive form of breast
cancer, and I sat in front of a surgeon who said I’m free on Tuesday,
how bout we take your breasts off then, as she penciled it into her
calendar like it was a lunch date at Nordstrom’s. I met my oncologist
on my 27th birthday. She told me I had a 52% chance of surviving 5
years disease free if I did nothing. Do nothing? Do you know who I
I walked into my first day of chemo in four inch stilettos wearing a
shirt that said “My oncologist is better than yours”. For six months I
graced the oncology floor with my over the top shoe collection,
boisterous laughter, and a slew of funny shirts that summed up how I
was feeling so eloquently. FUCK CANCER, was my favorite.
The guise of humor is what kept me afloat. In between those moments of
laughter and comical cancer shirts I was forced to face the fact that
because of cancer I was now jobless, almost bankrupt, and fighting the
FDA for a lifesaving drug that they didn’t want to give me b/c my
cancer was not yet stage four. Oh, and the eligible bachelor…he
dumped me after my bilateral mastectomies.
Cancer wasn’t playing fair, but I only played to win, so I turned all
of my energy and passion into waging an all out war on the disease. It
was a worthy opponent.
By my 29th birthday I had buried 29 friends to cancer. 29 funerals.
Each one harder than the last. Hearing little children being told
their mommy is an angel now, and the smell of the flowers and the
words of condolence played in my mind like a continuous loop over and
over again. And I became angry and scared. So I ate. And I ate and I
ate, until one day I woke up weighing 60 pounds more than I did at
diagnosis. And I needed help, only I didn’t know how to ask.
When I heard about First Descents, I didn’t give it much thought. I
mean, my version of physical activity is running to catch a subway in
high heels. Still, I thought the only way to stop letting cancer
define every part of my life would be to step as far out of my comfort
zone as possible. So I traded in my stilettos and skyscrapers, for
booties, a PFD, and the mountains.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that first day of camp was the
beginning of the rest of my life. It was there that I learned that
Cancer WOULD NOT, be the hardest thing I would ever have to overcome
and this excited me. I pushed myself physically and emotionally in
ways I never imagined possible. With this new family by my side, I
As we lined up for the graduation rapid my heart was pumping through
my PFD as I shouted out, I’LL GO FIRST!!! This was my moment to prove
to myself that I could do this. That I owned this. With my eyes ahead,
my breathing focused, one wave at a time I paddled. and I paddled and
I paddled. I left so much of myself on that river. So much anger, so
When I stopped I felt myself starting to tear up. It was the first
time in five years that I felt like I could breathe. And in that
moment, on that river, looking at those mountains, I took my life
And that was only the beginning. In the first ten weeks home from camp
I embraced a strong, healthy lifestyle and lost 30 pounds. In the
months that followed I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the
lessons I had learned. I began to understand that the way I live my
life every day directly affects each person I encounter. And when I
feel myself begin to falter, it is Brad Ludden who is always there to
remind me to give myself permission to live. To embrace adventure with
a heart wide open. And as I climbed to the highest point I could reach
atop the Canadian Rockies a few weeks ago, I wrote a note of
thanks….and left it on the mountain.
Because of First Descents I am certain there is always a way to do the
impossible– to survive the unsurvivable, for as long as our forevers
may be. The common bond that ties us together is not cancer nor
kayaking. It is the fact that when faced with the impossible, WE
So as you leave here tonight, and return to your homes…should you
find yourself taking a first descent into what seems like the
impossible, remember how you felt on the river, on the mountains.
Remember how you feel in this very moment. Determined, ready to meet
the challenges of tomorrow, and always surrounded by family.