For years women who had had breast cancer surgery were told not to use their arms for any strenuous activity for fear of causing lymphedema, a build up of fluid in the arm. Don McKenzie, a Canadian sports medicine specialist at the University of British Columbia, opposed this idea. In 1996, he formed a dragon boat team composed of 24 women with a history of breast cancer in Vancouver, B.C. They called themselves Abreast in a Boat. And they proved that strenuous exercise was good for their arms and for their overall health.
A few years later, they entered in the Vancouver dragon boat festival and I saw them on the television news. I had never heard of dragon boating before and I said to my husband. "That looks like fun. I'd like to try dragon boating sometime."
In January of 2001, I was doing a breast self examination and found a small lump. My annual mammogram at the Breast Centre in Edmonton was scheduled for February but I called the centre and told them my news. They booked me an appointment in two days. Although no one said the C word, after the questions, the mammogram, and the ultrasound, I was pretty sure it was cancer. Then I was told that I needed a biopsy and that it could be scheduled for the next week. However, they added "We have an opening in the next hour and we can do it today." I knew for sure it was cancer.
At my pre-op session a woman came in to tell me about a group of women living with cancer or who had had breast cancer that met every month for coffee and to offer support. I asked her if she knew of a breast cancer survivor dragon boat team in the city. She found the contact information for Breast Friends for me and two weeks after my surgery I joined the team. I wasn't allowed to get in the boat until three months after my last radiation treatment so I didn't get to actually paddle until 2002. Each summer we attended dragon boat festivals in Alberta and British Columbia.
In Sept. 2007, an international breast cancer festival was held in Caloundra, Queensland, Australia, and Angels Abreast went to that. What a wonderful time we had. The residents were friendly, the venue was excellent, and the hosts did a great job of organizing. The 100 teams of twenty-four paddlers, steersperson, and drummer paraded through the streets dressed in pink, and many people yelled "Canada" or honked their horns when they saw our Canadian flag hanging from our balconies. The festival lasted three days and again I met many special women. After the festival some of us toured around Queensland and New South Wales. Even with my fear of heights, I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. From there we flew to Fiji for a week.
A year and a half ago my team received a notice that the next international festival was going to be held in Sarasota, Florida, October 24, 25, 26, 2014, and we decided to attend. The other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home. I wanted more than that, so my husband, Mike, and I decided to do a three month tour of the U.S. Since I needed to be in Sarasota by October 22 to practice with the team, we picked Sept. 18 (later changed to Sept. 23) as our leaving date and Dec. 16 as our return date. I applied for and was given three months off work.
Mike had had back surgery on Dec. 17, 2013, but we were assured that he should be healed in time to go. However, that has not been the case. His back hasn't healed properly and he is in constant pain. It took a lot of thought and discussion whether he should accompany me because he tired so quickly. But we decided he would be in pain if he stayed home or if he came with me so he finally decided to come. We found a motorhome and are now bringing our four cats. (my daughter suggested a title for my next book: The Crazy Cat Lady On Tour)
Since my diagnosis I have met so many strong, caring, fun-loving women plus I have visited some wonderful places. I am looking forward to doing the same this year and many years to come, a silver lining to my cloud.
The Only Shadow In The House