Giving Back – the Strength of Survivorship

Maybe I was always strong but didn’t know it. I had always thought because I cried at weddings, at parades when marching bands went by and when I heard our national anthem that I was not very emotionally intact. After having breast cancer in 1996 at the age of 42 my life changed and so did the lives of people living close to me. It was terrifying at the time; the drugs for side effects of chemotherapy were not as effective as today. There were times that I felt that I might not make it through. I didn’t always feel strong. I felt afraid.

Finally I had my last chemo and I started the journey back to health. During my treatment I discovered true gratitude and not putting off until tomorrow what can be done today. Life is precious. I had walked through the valley of the shadow of death and had been given huge gifts – a loving family, a host of very good friends who stood by me, people of many faiths praying for me and a supportive workplace. The desire to give back to others resonated in me because of what had been given to me.

In 1997 I met the director of the Breast Cancer Centre of Hope who later asked me to sit on my first committee as a breast cancer survivor, assisting with the planning for an exciting project, the Breast Health Centre, a “one stop shop” for women newly diagnosed. At this table I first heard about dragon boat racing and the link to breast cancer and lymphedema. I didn’t even know what a dragon boat looked like, but I told my husband that I wanted to start a dragon boat team. I called up other survivors I knew, did some local advertising and the rest is history. The Waves of Hope Dragon Boat Team started in 1999 in Brandon and western Manitoba and is still alive and vibrant today. I made wonderful friends and lost some very dear ones to the illness. And that’s what motivates me to stay strong and to keep involved. For the past six years I have been a board member of the Canadian Breast Cancer Network, a board of breast cancer survivors. I take strength from the experiences of other survivors and am proud to be a part of the national voice that is making a difference.

Sometimes life can throw us more than we think we could ever endure and we were tested again in 2004 when we lost our beautiful daughter Lindsey at the age of 20. I believe my spiritual journey with my breast cancer experience helped to prepare me for the darkest days of my life and to come out on the other side. Life is very different now, but I am here and still able and help others deal with their personal pain in a grief support group. I am strong. I am not afraid, and tears are what make us human.