Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boat Teams
In the fall of 1995, Dr. Don McKenzie, a sports medicine physician and an exercise physiologist, was conducting a research project at the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. This study looked at the cardio-respiratory fitness levels in two groups of women - one group had been treated for breast cancer, and the other group had no history of breast cancer. The breast cancer group had many anecdotal stories about the "don't s" they had been told after treatment. Most of this advice restricted activities involving the upper body. Though well intentioned, there was no published research that supported this information. A desire to return these individuals to an unrestricted, active lifestyle, as well as the lack of scientific proof to the contrary, was the impetus behind Dr. McKenzie's idea to form the first all breast cancer survivors' dragon boat team.
In February 1996, the first team was formed. The only criteria to join the team was a history of breast cancer. Age, athletic ability, paddling experience - none of these things mattered. Paddlers came from all walks of life. Ages ranged from 31 to 62! The women volunteered for this adventure not knowing what problems, if any, would occur. They were, and are, a very courageous group. A slow, progressive weight training and aerobic exercise program was the starting point. This program was designed by Don to meet the needs of this special group. From all of this Abreast in a Boat Society was established.
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How did we get started?
A Short History of a Dragon Boat Team
By Carola Von Heyking
"Survivorship" The South Okanagan Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boat Team is the brainchild of Cathie Lauer and Sue Butchart. Cathie and Sue participated in the Kelowna Dragon Boat Festival in September 1999. They were part of the Kelowna Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boat Team - "Bustin' Loose". They both felt that the benefits arising from their experience needed to be shared with other survivors in the South Okanagan.
Cathie and Sue organized an informational meeting to see if there was enough interest in the South Okanagan to form a team. The meeting held in February of 2000 was attended by women from the local breast cancer support group, ladies contacted through a recent Breast Cancer Forum and others who heard about it through the media. The overall response was more than positive.
A team was quickly formed and organized following guidelines graciously suppled by Vancouver's "Abreast in a Boat".
The next step was to secure funding. Letters with information about breast cancer and a request for support was sent to one hundred area businesses. In only a few days the first $1,000.00 came in. Talk about encouraging!
A potential team coach contacted the team and was hired. Lakeside Fitness came on board to set up a fitness program for the team members. Training began in April. Simultaneously, the fund raising committee was in full swing and the registration for the team's first competition had been paid. One of the main fund raising activities, and a very productive one, was attending local service club meetings. By doing this they achieved one of their main goals, raising awareness about breast cancer.
Dale Charles, a team member and physiotherapist, assessed each paddler's fitness level. This is just one example of how the members of "Survivorship" have all pitched in from day one to make this such a special experience.
The other component of the team has been "Shore Support". These are members who, for one reason or another, are unable to paddle but still wish to participate.
By the end of April the team was well formed and everyone was busy participating in everything from fund raising to putting together a newsletter. The team was ready to nail down a boat for the 2000 season. Once more good fortune smiled on "Survivorship". Foundation 2000, in Victoria, agreed to supply a boat to the team for the season. While waiting for the boat to arrive, the team helped the Penticton Racing Canoe Club with their annual regatta. "Survivorship" organized the wind up dinner. The team also raced in the regatta. A terrific time was had by all and the team raised some more money for their boat.
Survivorship next participated in the Peach Festival Parade. Penticton Regional Hospital Alumni Association sponsored the team in the parade. The boat was decorated and towed in the parade. Survivorship used this event as an opportunity to raise breast cancer awareness. Over 800 information pamphlets were distributed and a very positive response to the team's entry and awareness efforts was received. The bonus was the great time that the team had participating in the event.
Meanwhile the team was busy practicing diligently under the tutelage of Coach Don Mulhall. Everyone's eye was on the Kelowna Festival now looming closer than ever.
Just one week prior to the festival the team held a special sponsor appreciation day. One more excellent example of everyone pitching in to make Survivorship so successful. The gals provided all the food themselves and were able to thank all their special sponsors, especially Valley First Financial, Lakeside Fitness, Summerland Rotary and so many many more. The day ended with sponsors being given a ride in the dragon boat.
Survivorship's first dragon boat festival was in Kelowna in September of 2000, less than nine months after the girls decided to form a team. Survivorship secured a "Costco tent" over the training season and this tent served as a base for the team and other breast cancer teams from out of town. The down time between races was used very effectively to continue to raise breast cancer awareness.
The real news though is the fact that Survivorship finished their first festival with a silver medal and a standing ovation from the crowd. What a finish to an inaugural season!
But wait, the season wasn't quite over yet. Survivorship went on the next week to participate in the CIBC "Run for the Cure" in Kelowna. They walked away with the trophy for the "Community Team Raising The Most Money" for the run. Survivorship raised over $6000.00. Not bad for a first time effort.
The triumph was celebrated at a wind up dinner immediately following the run. The dinner was held at the Summerland Golf Course. A video of the race and vignettes from the season was shown. Everyone was presented with a certificate declaring them to be a founding member of Survivorship.
The season, and what Survivorship is all about, was summed up when one member declared to all "I'm almost glad I went through breast cancer because otherwise I wouldn't have had this marvelous experience".
Survivorship 2000 Kelowna
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Our Story by Cathie Lauer
My name is Cathy Lauer and breast cancer has changed my life. In 1996 I was diagnosed with this devastating disease. I was 44 years old with no known family history. I underwent all suggested medical treatment including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. As a Registered Nurse, I used my medical knowledge to investigate and participate in a number of adjuvant therapies including positive thinking tapes, inspirational books and availing myself of many books in our cancer clinic library. My goal was to give myself the best possible chance of survival.
I was one of the lucky ones who tolerated treatment fairly well. Recovering from surgery and treatments is only one part of the cancer journey. Getting back to living a "normal" life is perhaps even more challenging. It can be very difficult to believe that there can be "life after breast cancer".
Even while undergoing treatment, I felt a very strong desire to help others cope with cancer diagnosis. I had read that women who attend support groups while undergoing cancer treatment live longer. We did not have a support group in my area, but, I found out that a former oncology nurse was going to start one. I contacted her and helped set up the Penticton Breast Cancer Support Group. I stayed involved with this for a number of years as a facilitator and co-facilitator. This group still exists and is a very crucial component for many women undergoing their cancer journey.
Perhaps the most exciting and beneficial area that I got involved in was Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boating. I became a representative of the Vancouver based Breast Cancer Alliance. I was fortunate enough to attend a conference in 1999 where I met a group of women who were starting a Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boat Team in Kelowna, British Columbia, about an hour away from my hometown of Summerland. I researched the history of dragon boating and the benefits for breast cancer survivors. I asked to join their team. I spent that summer commuting to practices in Kelowna and was hooked. Being a part of this group made me realize that women can lead active, challenging lives after treatment for breast cancer.
The following year I started a dragon boat team for breast cancer survivors in my city with the help of a close friend and fellow survivors, Sue Butchart and my family. We named ourselves "Survivorship" and we are The South Okanagan Survivors Dragon Boat Team Society. Our mission is to raise awareness about breast cancer, to support women going through treatment, to show women that they can have active and challenging lives after diagnosis and treatment and to help raise funds for research and education. We are known as the "ladies in pink" and are out and about in our community raising awareness about breast cancer. In our first year Survivorship raised funds to purchase our own dragon boat and equipment.
We have hosted educational forums, raised funds for "The Run for the Cure" and competed in numerous festivals throughout British Columbia. We have donated funds to a variety of breast cancer initiatives and in 2005 our team competed in the International Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver where we were crowned International Champions. In September 2007 we travelled to Australia to defend our title, and, while we did not come home with the gold medal, I truly believe that we are all champions...having fought and won our battles with breast cancer.
The Survivorship team has worked on a committee with the Penticton Hospital Foundation. We have helped raise more than $1 million dollars to purchase a Stereotactic Digital Mammography machine for our hospital. It is due to be installed this year.
Cancer changes a person in so many ways, and, as strange as it may sound, I feel that breast cancer has been a gift to me. I was forced to slow down and appreciate the truly important things in life such as family and friends. Cancer has provided me with unique challenges and opportunities including dragon boating. I have met many amazing survivors and supporters and have been touched by their stories and their courage. Cancer has allowed me to touch the lives of many women and I hope to continue to provide them with the support and encouragement to fight their own battles.
It is my hope that if breast cancer has touched your life that you will join us in our paddle towards a sense of teamwork, support and an active lifestyle after diagnosis and treatment.
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