Peers with cancer enjoy the benefits of being in the same boat

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When we are first diagnosed with cancer, breast cancer, it is impossible to envision a bright future without the weight of cancer dragging us down. But that bright future exists and for many of us the light comes from the dragon boat and our team, Sunshine Dragons Abreast.

A cancer diagnosis brings fear, doubt and uncertainty. So we are starting a steep learning curve that is primarily medical and deeply personal. We learn survival terms, procedures and statistics and these become our new world. The terms are hard to remember, the procedures painful, and our very survival is now in jeopardy. No one around us can understand what we are going through. We are in pain and suddenly dead. We have partners, kids, friends and family and many of us have tremendous support from them. But we feel alone in our struggle and in our pain and uncertainty for our future. We live in a strange new world, not the one we have chosen.

One of our paddlers recounts a conversation she had with her oncologist at the start of her treatment. He told her that the hardest part for her would be to “get her life back”. She didn’t understand what he meant until she had gone through the months of treatment and found herself in this state of uncertainty: “What now? Cancer makes you realize that you are mortal and that life is different now.

In this third article on dragon boat and breast cancer, we have the chance to share with you a bit of our history and the benefits of being part of a team. While each of our stories is unique, what we have in common is that our team brings us renewed energy and joie de vivre. The dragon boat changed our lives, gave us new friendships and boosted our morale. We are not alone.

Beginnings

The dragon boat on the coast began in 2005, run by breast cancer survivors who had the opportunity to participate in a dragon boat in Vancouver and Calgary. They put up posters in malls and attracted 75 people to the first meeting. Sunshine Coast Dragon Boat Club (SCDBC)

was created in the months that followed. Many people enjoy boating, and the SCDBC has both recreation and competition teams.

But there were enough breast cancer survivors at that first meeting to establish our team, Sunshine Dragons Abreast. The Gibsons Paddle Club was very helpful in supporting the early efforts. Don MacKenzie of MacKenzie Marina in Porpoise Bay is another great source of support. Our thanks to him for providing us with dry storage and mooring for our boats. Don is always there to help, recently setting up a ladder and lifebuoy on the dock, just in case.

First member

One of the first members of Sunshine Dragons Abreast is Pat Walker. Pat was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989 and moved with her husband Gordon to the coast in 1996. She met our former trainer Gill Kydd, with her posters announcing this first reunion for the dragon boat, at Trail Bay Center in January 2005.

Pat says Gill was so excited about the benefits of the dragon boat that she herself was thrilled to have breast cancer and to be able to participate. This despite a fear of the water and no history of paddling or small water sports. Pat, like many of us, had rarely played in team sports and, like many of us, was often the last chosen for a team in school.

Pat has paddled with the team from the start, continues to paddle at 85 and believes the benefits are endless. They understand social networking, fun and companionship, and the health benefits of paddling exercise. Pat has made lifelong friendships, is comfortable on the water, and is more aware of her health and the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle. Pat’s late husband Gordie was a huge supporter of our team, cheering us on every race, telling us how well we did no matter where we placed. Supporters are welcome and a great help in managing the many aspects of the work of planning and organizing our events. We also have supporters who paddle with us regularly.

Public awareness

As a team, we are committed to keeping the community informed about the importance of early detection of breast cancer. Pat has been very active in our public awareness campaigns and our annual fashion show, interrupted by COVID but a past community event enjoyed by many.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and some of our team will be at Sunnycrest Mall in Gibsons on Friday October 15th and at Trail Bay Center in Sechelt on Saturday October 16th. Both days will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. information about our team, the importance of screening and information about the Flair on the Coast cancer support group. Flair is open to survivors of all cancers and meets in Rockwood on the second Saturday morning of each month from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Chance to travel

Part of the fun of being part of our team is the chance to travel and compete with breast cancer survivors all over the world. Our team and supporters have participated in all international breast cancer competitions: Australia, Peterborough, Ont., Sarasota, Florida, and Florence, Italy. These international competitions take place every four years. The next one will be in New Zealand in 2023. It has been great for those of us who are seniors with no track record to be known now as “international athletes”. Our friends and families are amazed. And we laugh!

Locally, of course, we have great competitive opportunities and we participate in racing events in Vancouver, Nanaimo and Penticton. Travel internationally and locally is expensive, and as a team of members from all walks of life and ages, there is a need to fundraise to help with expenses. Not everyone can travel but we are a team and those who cannot travel or wish to compete are with us in spirit wherever we are. And certainly, now that we are doubly vaccinated and very careful of our immunocompromised teammates, we will be back on the water in 2022, every Monday and Wednesday during the spring, summer and early fall. We hope you will join us.

Find out more

Come down to the mall to meet our team to find out more. You could get excited like Pat and get into this wonderful sport. If you can’t make it to the mall, you can phone our captain, Laurie, at 778-462-2171 for more information on our Sunshine Dragons Abreast team. If you’re interested in dragon boat and the other teams that offer this, call Amanda, President of our Sunshine Coast Dragon Boat Club, at 604-506-8351. Courses for new paddlers are scheduled for March 2022. We look forward to meeting you on the water next year!

In closing, our deep gratitude to John Gleeson, Editor-in-Chief of The Coast Reporter, our great community newspaper, for supporting our articles and keeping you up to date with the latest news on the Dragon Boat on the Coast.

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