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Comrades in cancer enjoy the benefits of being in same boat

‘Dragon boating has changed our lives’

When we are first diagnosed with cancer, breast cancer, it is impossible to consider a bright future, one without the weight of cancer dragging us down. But that bright future does exist and for many of us the brightness comes from dragon boating and from our team, Sunshine Dragons Abreast.

A diagnosis of cancer brings fear, doubt, and uncertainty. So we begin a steep learning curve that is mainly medical and deeply personal. We learn terms and pro-cedures and survival statistics and these become our new world. Terms are hard to remember, the procedures are painful and our very survival is now at risk. No one around us can understand what we are going through. We are in pain and suddenly mortal. We have partners and children and friends and family and many of us have wonderful support from them. But we feel alone in our battle and in our pain and uncertainty for our future. We are living in a strange new world, not one we chose.

One of our paddlers relates a conversation she had with her oncologist in the early part of her treatment. He said to her that the hardest part ahead for her would be “getting her life back.” She didn’t understand what he meant until she was through the months of treatment and was left in that state of uncertainty: “Now what?” Cancer brings you to the realiza-tion that you are mortal and that life now is different.

In this third article on dragon boating and breast cancer we have the chance to share with you a bit of our history and the benefits of belonging to a team. Although every one of our stories is unique, what we have in com-mon is that our team brings us renewed energy and zest for life. Dragon boating has changed our lives, given us new friendships, and strengthened our spirits. We are not alone.


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

was created in the months to follow. Many people enjoy drag-on boating, and the SCDBC has teams for recreation and for com-petition.

But there were enough breast cancer survivors at that first meeting to get our team, Sunshine Dragons Abreast established. The Gibsons Paddle Club was very helpful in supporting the early efforts. Another huge source of support has been from Don MacKenzie of MacKenzie Marina in Porpoise Bay. Our grateful thanks to him for providing us with dry land storage and moor-age for our boats. Don is always there to help us, recently install-ing a ladder and life ring on the dock, just in case.

Early member

An early member 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 coach Gill Kydd, with her post-ers announcing that first meeting for dragon boating, in Trail Bay Centre in January 2005.

Pat relates that Gill was so enthusiastic about the benefits of dragon boating that she herself felt excited that she had breast cancer and could participate. This in spite of a fear of water and no history of paddling or small boat sports. Pat, like many of us, had seldom played in team sports and like many of us was often the last one picked for a team in school.

Pat has paddled with the team since the beginning, continues to paddle at 85 and believes the ben-efits are endless. They include the social network, the fun and cama-raderie, and the health benefits of paddling exercise. Pat has made lifelong friends, 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 strong supporter of our team, cheering us on in every race, tell-ing us how well we did, no matter where we placed. Supporters are very welcome, and a great help in managing the many aspects of the work in planning and organiz-ing our events. We have support-ers as well who paddle with us regularly.

Public awareness

As a team we are committed to keeping the community informed about the importance of early screening for breast cancer. Pat has been very active in our pub-lic 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 in Gibsons’ Sunnycrest Mall on Friday, Oct. 15 and in Sechelt’s Trail Bay Centre on Saturday, Oct. 16. Both days will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be information about our team, the importance of screening and information about the cancer support group Flair on the Coast. Flair is open to survivors of all cancers, and meets at Rockwood on the sec-ond Saturday morning of every month from 10 to 11:30.

Chance to travel

Part of the fun of participat-ing in our team is the chance to travel and compete with breast cancer survivors all over the world. Our team and our support-ers have been to all of the inter-national breast cancer competi-tions: Australia, Peterborough, Ont., Sarasota, Fla., and Florence, Italy. These international compe-titions are held every four years. The next one is in New Zealand in 2023. It has been terrific, for those of us who are seniors with no history in athletics, to be known now as “international ath-letes.” Our friends and families are amazed. And we are grinning!

Locally, of course, we have great opportunities for competi-tion, and we participate in rac-ing events in Vancouver, Nanaimo and Penticton. Travel internation-ally and locally is expensive, and as a team with members from all walks of life and across a wide age span, it is necessary to fund-raise to help with expenses. Not everyone can travel but we are a team and those who can’t travel or wish to compete are with us in spirit wherever we may be. And certainly, now that we are double vaccinated and very careful for our immune-compromised team-mates, we will be back on the water in 2022, every Monday and Wednesday during the spring, summer and early fall. We hope you will be joining us.

Find out more

Come down to the mall to meet our team to find out more. You might just get excited like Pat was and take up this wonder-ful sport. If you can’t get down to the mall, you can phone our captain, Laurie, at 778-462-2171 to get more information on our team Sunshine Dragons Abreast. If you are interested in dragon boating and the other teams that offer this, call Amanda, president of our Sunshine Coast Dragon Boat Club, at 604-506-8351. Lessons for new paddlers are planned for March 2022. We look forward to meeting you on the water next year!

In closing, our deep gratitude to John Gleeson, editor of the Coast Reporter, our great commu-nity newspaper, and his support for our articles and keeping you up to date on dragon boating on the Coast.