By: Anne Cahill, KAB member

My story begins when I was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia CML in June of 2016. I had just started a daily oral chemotherapy when I received the dreaded “call back” after my regular mammogram and was diagnosed with Breast Cancer as well. I had a lumpectomy and luckily did not require a separate chemotherapy.  I weighed the pros and cons with respect to my ongoing CML treatment and “opted out” of the standard course of radiation.  At that point I decided that the medical team had done their job and it was now My job to get moving, get in shape and show cancer who was Boss!

I had heard about the Knot A Breast breast cancer survivor dragon boat team and their accomplishments but was hesitant to reach out. I called Geri, the new membership co-ordinator, and got some information about the team and how to join but didn’t follow through. I just wasn’t confident that I could do it! Even though I had been athletic in my younger years and loved playing sports, I was intimidated to try a new sport that I had no background in.  Was I too old to learn a new sport? Was I too physically-depleted from cancer treatment to join this team?

By Norma Moores and Carrie Brooks-Joiner, KAB members

The Knot A Breast breast cancer survivor dragon boat team was formed in 1998. The team is now 23 years old and has been represented by a logo of a cute dragon head with a pink ribbon around its neck and Knot A Breast spelled out below it in a rope-like font. This logo was created by Hamilton artist, Conrad Furey, married to coach Kathy Levy’s cousin.

Knot A Breast’s original logo by Conrad Furey

Conrad was born in Newfoundland in 1954 and settled in Hamilton in 1974. He passed away from colon cancer in 2008. Conrad was very fond of Knot A Breast. One of his paintings depicts a dragon boat team and hangs on the ground floor in the Medical Arts Building at 1 Young Street, Hamilton. He created the original logo after talking to the entire original team.

Example of Conrad Furey’s art, Medical Arts Building, 1 Young Street, Hamilton

By Carrie Brooks-Joiner, KAB member

When I was a kid, the only person I knew with a tattoo was my Great Uncle Harold. It was on his upper arm and its original sharpness and colour had long faded. I never knew what it represented, and I didn’t dare to ask him. I only ever knew it had something to do with the war and that my mother disapproved.  To me, it represented a combination of badass and what I could only assume was youthful regret.

At eighteen, my youngest daughter announced she was going to get a tattoo on her inner forearm. She didn’t need my approval, but I certainly let her know I did not approve. My concern about the permanence was to her the whole point of getting one.

Photo of author

By Carrie Brooks-Joiner, KAB Member

We know what the “C” word means. Given the prevalence of cancer in so many forms, most people have at least a passing familiarity of the disease. Yet, until it demands our attention, cancer tends to stay in the background of our consciousness.

For members of the Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat team members, we have already faced the big “C”. For some of us, and others who have experienced cancer, it is not the big “C” that dominates our thoughts, but the big “R”; recurrence. My handy dictionary explains recurrence as the “fact of happening again”. Dr. Google goes on to explain that in a cancer context, recurrence is cancer that has recurred (come back or metastasized), usually after a period of time during which cancer could not be detected. Cancer may come back to the same place as the original (primary) tumour or in another place in the body. 

I was a cancer innocent. It never occurred to me that I would get breast cancer. There is very little cancer in my family and no breast cancer. I had none of the risk factors. I distinctly recall my mother explaining to me that it is cardiovascular disease that kills the women in my family. Perhaps she thought that somehow this awareness, and her reminders to pay attention to healthy living, would stave off that threat. Maybe it has, but there was cancer lurking behind it. 

During spring 2020, we are challenged to stay healthy and fit within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic that requires us to stay home, physically distance, and not be with our teammates. We connect on our private Facebook group, challenging and supporting each other to keep going, keep strong. For a week in April, we focused on posting healthy, nutritious and sometimes, just good old comfort food.

It just takes attending one dragon boat festival potluck lunch with Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat team to realize we care about what we eat. Based on our Facebook posts, we have compiled some of our teammates’ favourite recipes for everyone to enjoy.

by Michelle Lapointe, KAB Member

Dragon boating is an exhilarating sport. As with all water-related activities, safety is paramount when our team, Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team, is out on the water. The water, wind and weather conditions can be wild or unpredictable. As paddlers, we must have the knowledge and skills to react efficiently to ensure the safety of ourselves and everyone in the boat.

The Knot A Breast annual safety “dunk” is a dragon boat capsize drill that all of our members must successfully complete before being allowed on the water each season. It is a simulation of the boat capsizing. One of our members, Donna Reise, oversees the safety dunk at a few of our winter pool practices so that every team member has the opportunity to practice this important drill. She goes over the importance of knowing this drill and the elements that keep each of us safe in the event of a capsize.

The “dunk” consists of Knot A Breast team members sitting on the side of the pool dressed in full paddling gear, dropping their paddles away from themselves, falling into the water, swimming across the pool with their buddy, then ducking under the water as if they were ducking out from under the dragon boat. Key safety messages include:

  • Stay calm and quiet
  • Find and stay with your buddy (seat partner)
  • Stay with the dragon boat

No one likes to go swimming fully dressed in their paddling clothes, but each of us understands the importance of practicing what to do should we find ourselves in the water.

Some of our Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team Members are familiar with Brian Kelly of SMBS Personal Training and Wellness Studio as a personal trainer or from taking his fitness classes. All of us are familiar with the effect of exercise on mental health. Brian has brought these together in his second annual Threshold Challenge.

Threshold to a Brighter Tomorrow raises money for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to provide rehabilitation care. The Threshold Challenge began in 2019 (see Knot A Blog: KAB joins the Metabolic Challenge for “Threshold to a Brighter Tomorrow”), and this year strives for even greater success. The challenge encourages people to get involved by completing daily and weekly physical and mental challenges for the month of February. Every challenge completed as well as every $10 donation to Threshold to a Brighter Tomorrow is rewarded with an entry for a prize. The set of daily challenges and the weekly challenges are provided below, along with the ways to win.

If you are hanging out with a Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team member during the winter months, you might hear them say, “I’m in the tank Saturday morning.” What vision does this bring to your mind? Maybe one of these definitions?

Tank NOUN

  1. a large receptacle or storage chamber, especially for liquid or gas. 
  2. a heavy armored fighting vehicle carrying guns and moving on a continuous articulated metal track. 
  3. NORTH AMERICAN informal: a cell in a police station or jail.

Number 1 would be close to what they are describing, but it is not a gas tank like in your car. On Saturday mornings in the winter, KAB members head to the Welland International Flatwater Centre (WIFC) to work out with their fellow paddlers, SNCC Welland Warlocks in the ‘tank.’ The WIFC is a state-of-the-art indoor facility for rowing, canoe, kayak and dragon boat training. The facility was built for the Pan Am Games and is the only one of its kind in North America.

In the summer season we train on open water and work hard to make the boat move through the water. In the tank, the boats are fixed in place and the water moves. Think of a treadmill, but with water as the moving surface instead of rubber. Different configurations of “seats” can be lowered into the tank that simulate rowing shells, canoes, kayaks and dragon boats. It differs from a swimming pool in that the water is less than a meter deep, and large pumps hidden at the end of the tank push the water from one end to the other creating a current. Coaches can move around the tank and even step into the boats to assist with technique, make corrections, and generally do what they do, coach. Mirrors are mounted along the sides of the tank so the athletes can view their reflections to review their form and work on perfecting their technique.

Knot A Breast Dragon Boat Team are very fortunate to be able to train at WIFC. Next time you hear a KAB member say, ‘I’m in the tank’, know that they are in winter training to perfect their technique and are dreaming of the upcoming competitive season.

By Carrie Brooks-Joiner, KAB member

A handful of Knot A Breast team members attended the 10th Biennial Life After Breast Cancer Conference offered by the Juravinski Cancer Centre, October 25, 2019 at the Hamilton Convention Centre. We staffed a table in the trade show, proudly displayed a selection of trophies and medals, and tried to encourage as many women as possible to join the Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team. Nineteen conference attendees signed up for more information about our team!

This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Alexandra Ginty, a Community Family Physician and the Regional Primary Care Lead for Cancer Care in Mississauga/Halton. Dr. Ginty shared her story of how she coped with her own breast cancer diagnosis and transitioned from the doctor to patient role. She is a strong advocate for art therapy, journaling and a cognitive behavior therapy approach to improve mental health. Alex shared what she called “Positive Thinking Cards”. Each has a different theme such as “Resilience”, “No Excuses”, and were a simple list of reminders to herself. Card #1, “Things to Remember” included “Enjoy every moment. Ask for help. Take naps. Don’t feel guilty.”, etc. in her long and personal list. I recall such reminders as resonating in the days when the word ‘cancer’ was a 24/7 thought and getting through the day was daunting. Dr. Ginty’s message was well received by many in attendance who were looking for such guidance.

As Knot A Breast Dragon Boat Team winds down our on-water paddling season for 2019, we reflect on this outstanding year by recognizing the amazing support of our home base, Macassa Bay Yacht Club (MBYC). They do so much for us: provide a club house, boat dockage and storage, washrooms and showers, a pleasant garden to do our warm-ups and stretches in, social memberships with its perks, etc. And that is only the physical support. As Breast Cancer Survivors, their emotional support means even more to us.

As a small thank-you, we host their Saturday BBQ twice a summer. This year it was August 17 and September 21, 2019 when our members, family and friends took on food preparation, cooking and sales for KAB paddlers, MBYC boaters and their supporters to purchase. Sausages and hamburgers (and one veggie burger) with all the fixings were simply delicious. KAB member, Aleta Thompson, donated her heavenly, homemade butter tarts to sell. Funds raised through food sales and a 50/50 draw are used by MBYC to support worthwhile causes in our community such as YMCA Hamilton-Burlington Strong Kids Campaign.

Thank-you Macassa Bay Yacht Club: you are more than a friend – you are family!

previous arrow
next arrow
previous arrownext arrow
Slider