Way back in 1991, I had just gotten married, and we were planning on starting a family. Life was GOOD.
Three months later, I found a lump, had a mammogram, ultrasound, needle aspiration biopsy and many follow-ups. These were all inconclusive. Even though I did mammograms for a living, I believed the doctors when they told me I was too young (age 31). Five months later, the lump started puckering and I knew it was bad.
Surgery, chemo, radiation and hair loss were my life for the next while. I was told not to start a family right away ... as our baby MAY not have a mother to take care of it. Great. So what happened? I got pregnant 6 weeks after all my treatments were done! Needless to say, I was hormonally, physically and emotionally challenged for quite a while!
My life remained full with work, belonging to a support group, and tending to my amazingly perfect new baby! However, once I heard about being part of a breast cancer dragon boat team, I realized this was the "silver lining" part of the disease that I was looking for. Joining the team in 2002 has led me to meet MANY new friends. The genuine caring of all the members, their families, as well as all the wonderful supporters who help us out in so many ways has overwhelmed me.
Cancer has truly touched everyone deeply. You can see it in the tears that flow at the flower ceremonies. You can hear it in the silence when loved ones are remembered. And you can feel it in the hugs you give and receive after a race.
Feeling the wind in your face, the sounds of others putting as much effort out as you, and KNOWING that you are all in the "same boat" fighting the same obstacles has brought a whole new world to my attention. My life is richer because of it.
My life IS good.
I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 1992. I had surgery, chemotherapy and 27 radiation treatments for a year, followed by five years of Tamoxifen. Truly, it is by all the love and support from my husband Ralph, my children, extended family, friends, Living Hope CRC members and by the grace of God that I am a survivor here today.
The first time I heard about dragon boating was at the breast cancer breakfast I went to in Abbotsford. They had mentioned the team in Vancouver called Abreast in a Boat and how they wanted someone to start a breast cancer survivor team out here in the Fraser Valley. I had signed my name on a paper as an interested party to be on a team, but a lady came and asked if I would be interested in helping to get a team going out here. I said, "No, I don't know anything about dragon boating. I just want to be on a team and paddle."
I heard nothing until some time later when it came up again at another breast cancer breakfast. The speaker (Marie) spoke about dragon boating. She was a breast cancer survivor who was involved with the Breast Cancer Foundation and had joined a team of survivors in Chilliwack. I also saw the article in the Abbotsford paper in October 2002 with two Spirit Abreast team members (Nancy and Marie) talking about their experience with paddling as part of their physical/mental healing process. The article explained how they had joined this breast cancer survivor dragon boat team which paddled out on Harrison Lake.
It also spoke about the team manager/coach Debbie Garcia and how she started the team Spirit Abreast in memory of her mother, a dragon boat paddler, who passed away from breast cancer. It was such a touching article that I felt that I wanted to be part of that team, as I too had just lost my mother to breast cancer in July, was still in mourning, and could relate to her loss.
I called Debbie and asked her about joining and that is just what happened, and here I am today. I have been a member of the Spirit Abreast Dragon Boat Team since I attended the first meeting in November 2002.
My first day out was a great experience! It was in January and the boat was just being delivered to us at Harrison Lake. We had to paddle it from the boat launch over to the boat dock. Oh! It was a little nippy! But it was great to be out on the water and paddling down the lake. Once we were in timing, we were just flying and it was beautiful! It is like there is nothing out there but you, your teammates, the boat, and the sound of the paddles swooshing in and out of the water and God's beautiful creation all around us.
We are so blessed to have such a great bunch of girls on the team. We all paddle together towards our goals, to race against cancer and to bring awareness about breast cancer, taking one day at a time and thanking God for each and every day.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989. The reaction of myself, my family and my friends to this diagnosis was shock. My treatment consisted of a mastectomy. I was invited by other survivors to join and meet a great group of people and that is how I became a member of Spirit Abreast.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer after a regular routine mammogram in April of 2003. This was very shocking news to me because I have always maintained a healthy and active lifestyle and there is no history of breast cancer in my family. I did not have any symptoms at all. None of the doctors who examined me could feel any lumps. A routine mammogram saved my life. However, in an instant my life changed: I had to cancel a canoe trip to the Turner Lake chain and postpone a planned trip to England. Of course, I was angry and frustrated with my problems. In May I had a lumpectomy and started radiation soon after. That summer was spent with trips to the cancer clinic. My family and friends were wonderful and we tried to make the best of it by planning some outing almost every day after my treatment.
I immersed myself in reading everything I could about breast cancer. I also attended events in and out of Chilliwack to learn more. One of the events was a Forum on Breast Cancer which was held at the Best Western Hotel. Peggy Robertson, team captain of Spirit Abreast, spoke about her experience with cancer and some of the team were there and sang their song. I was very impressed with the whole presentation. At the end of the evening some of the team members came over and invited me to join the team. I went to my first meeting in February and was almost overwhelmed by all the activities they were involved in. But I was very impressed with how upbeat and fun loving this group was. I decided I would give it a try. I was worried that I would be too old and not strong enough to do the sport, but the girls on the team would not listen to that argument!
The first time I was in the boat at Harrison Lake, it was a beautiful cold morning. The scenery was spectacular and I was hooked on paddling. At first, I felt very clumsy and splashed my team members a lot. But with the help of excellent coaching, I soon got the hang of paddling and loved it. The feeling of being a part of a team that is so supportive, caring, fun-loving (we laugh a lot!!) and dynamic is awesome. They are a group that has an incredible zest for life despite their experiences with cancer. I am so honoured to be a part of it all.
In March 2005, I was diagnosed with Her2 positive non-estrogen related breast cancer with 6 out of 9 lymph nodes positive. Initially, I was surprised. I expected the lump to be another benign cyst as I had previously. Breast cancer was on my father's side, not my mother's, so I thought I was safe. Once I accepted the truth, I was able to find strength and hope in my strong faith in the Lord. I have learned I can trust Him in all situations.
I kept my news very private at first; only family and a couple of close friends knew before the surgery. When I knew what I was facing and was ready to openly share with others, the support of friends, church, coworkers and family was wonderful. They have respected my wishes to be positive and help me find the humour in my experiences.
I had a lumpectomy and lymphectomy in April. Margins were good but lymph nodes were positive. I was told my chance of reoccurrence was high, so I felt I owed it to my family to pursue all available treatment. I had four treatments of Ardriomycin and Cyclophosphomide two weeks apart with daily shots of Neupogen to keep the white count up. My white count went too high and they had to adjust the dosage. Then I was to have 4 taxil treatments but had a severe reaction and was not able to continue. I was privileged to qualify for the new Herceptin treatments for one year. I had five weeks of radiation as well.
I heard about survivor dragon boat teams a couple of years before I was diagnosed and thought it was really cool. From the first diagnosis, I was always looking for positives, for instance, to get a whole summer of work. I also started early setting positive goals. Joining a dragon boat team was one of them. Many friends mentioned this to me as they knew this was something I would love.
When I was told that I could not come back to work when I wanted to, I was discouraged but tried to find a positive. I called a previous coworker that I knew was on the Spirit Abreast Team. Before the end of the week, I was on the lake paddling. The Team has welcomed me and has been an incredible encouragement. The team spirit, the challenge, and the camaraderie are exhilarating. I am becoming more physically fit. This is one more part of my adventure with breast cancer -- The Best Part!
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. My family, friends and I reacted with concern and fear. My treatment consisted of lumpectomy, sentinel node biopsy and radiation. I joined Spirit Abreast because I thought it would be a fun, healthy supportive way to deal with my breast cancer as well as promoting awareness to the community and beyond, thereby raising funds for a cure for breast cancer.
I have been a member of the Spirit Abreast Dragon Boat Team since late summer 2002. I am a three-time breast cancer victor and I have been challenging this disease since 1985. In 1986, I had chemo and radiation. In 1992, I had surgery. In 1994, I had radiation again. In 1996, I had a bilateral mastectomy. I joined the team because I like to be an example to others and to show that there is life after breast cancer.
Ever since I heard about the medical research project being done in the mid '90s by UBC, I wanted to get involved in dragon boating but the distance has always prevented my involvement. So when I had the pleasure of meeting some of the Spirit Abreast team members, I realized that I would finally get my chance.
Being out on the boat and competing is so invigorating and it really does become quite an addiction. The camaraderie amongst the team members is something to experience. While I know it was breast cancer that has brought our team together, it is not that connection which keeps us strong and positive; it is a collective will to achieve and look forward to better tomorrows.
I truly think there are some who are satisfied going through their lives standing on the shore just watching and supporting the achievements of others. Not me ... I will not stand and watch ... I am too busy paddling hard to stay in the race.
In May 2002, I was diagnosed with an estrogen dependent tumour in the right breast. I reacted with shock, disbelief and fear. I was able to cope because of family support. My family and friends were very supportive and positive.
I had a complete mastectomy then a tram flap reconstruction. I had some problems with the skin not healing and needed a second surgery with a skin graft. Following this, I had 4 rounds of chemotherapy. I am currently in my fifth year of taking Tamoxifen.
I joined the team because I am interested in supporting breast cancer awareness. I enjoy the companionship. I look forward to a routine that includes fitness with the motivation of a purpose.
A message from our coach: Sherry H.
Hi Spirit Abreast,
Someone asked me today how the Cultus Regatta went yesterday.
I said that it was wonderful, and realized that every regatta I've been to with you has been wonderful (even when I was sick in Kelowna last year!).
We are so supportive of each other, and each of us make being a part of Spirit Abreast wonderful for the others.
That includes the many wonderful women who weren't able to be in the boat with us for various reasons...the other 2 Marlene's, Debbie, Wendy, Rhonda, Florence, Peggy, Tammy...
We are proud of each other, proud of ourselves, and SO PROUD of being a part of Spirit Abreast!! This is the life.