It seems like a long time ago and at the same time like yesterday. During the summer of 1997 I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. It was the beginning of a long journey of fear, emotional and physical pain as well as acceptance, love and joy.
I discovered the Infinite Boundaries retreats the next year. The retreat on Madeline Island was transformative and healing. I wanted to share the experience with other women so I began volunteering and have done so almost every year since.
Breast cancer has also brought me experiences with many other women. Among the support groups I discovered a unique group called TEAMSurvivor-Madison. One evening while attending a local support group two women showed up with a unique concept. They wanted to begin a group that emphasized not only emotional support and healing, but also the physical healing we needed. It was a way to bond through participating in activities such as going for walks, participating in short distance triathlons, and dragon boating. It was unique also in that it included women who had any type of cancer. I discovered a bond and a sisterhood with women who had lymphoma, colon cancer and melanoma among others.
I found myself drawn to dragon boating and for the first time in my life I was participating in a team sport. A dragon boat has 20 paddlers, a steersperson and a drummer to help keep everyone paddling at the same time. It is an ancient sport that originated in China and is probably one of the most popular sports that no one ever heard of! After a slow start with a voyager canoe and other water craft, a friend of mine built us a real dragon boat and our team took off. We practice on Madison, WI lakes and participate in dragon boat festivals around the region.
This past July a part of our team had a unique opportunity to go to Florence, Italy and paddle in the International Beast Cancer Dragon Boat Commission’s festival which is held every four years in a new location. Because only breast cancer survivors can paddle, we joined women from teams in other parts of Wisconsin and neighboring states. With over 120 teams, a minimum of 22 people per team and lots of family and friends coming along as support, it was a very large gathering. Teams came from as far away as South Africa, New Zealand and Australia and as nearby as a team from Florence! The majority were from the USA and Canada, where the concept of using paddling dragon boats as help for lymphedema was started by a doctor who still attends the festivals.
Every year as I meet more women who are dealing with breast cancer, I realize how grateful I am for BCR and the Infinite Boundaries retreats. I have made life long friends, seen women discover strengths they never knew they had and learned new skills and truths about myself. Volunteering even helped me deal with another, different breast cancer I dealt with five years ago. It has been quite a journey!