Among those who competed last weekend in the annual Dragon Boat Festival in Vernon was the Buoyant Buddies Breast Cancer Survivor Team.
Members of this team are all survivors (and even thrivers) of breast cancer. Today, you might think it seems normal to see such women at a dragon boat festival.
However, before 1995, such an activity would have been unthinkable for survivors. After treatment for breast cancer, women were advised to rest and take part in no activities involving their upper bodies. But, in 1995, Dr. Don McKenzie founded a Vancouver Dragon Boat team of breast cancer survivors called “Abreast in a Boat.” By doing so, he showed that the ladies on this team suffered no ill effects from their paddling, and actually improved in both their physical and mental well-being.
Today, 23 years later, there are Survivor Dragon Boat teams all over the world.
Some of Vernon’s local team recently returned from Florence, Italy, where they met and competed with other breast cancer survivors from around the world.
“We’re all local breast cancer survivors [on our team] and I believe the team has been in existence for about 15 years and as a team, they’ve gone to Australia, we’ve gone to Florida, Peterborough Ontario and Vancouver and then this year we went to Florence, Italy,” said Buoyant Buddies team president Mary Ellen Macgregor. “In Florence, there were about 4,000 breast cancer survivors.”
She said that Dragon Boating has improved all these women’s lives through improved fitness and camaraderie but also recognises that breast cancer can be a cruel disease. Not everyone survives it, despite the improved methods of detection and treatment we have today.
The Buoyant Buddy team wishes to remember their former teammate, Julie Vardabasso, who passed away last week and whose celebration of life is taking place at this very moment.
“We miss you, Julie. You lived your life to the fullest,” wrote Macgregor on behalf of the team. “This is for you!”
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