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

Story 6 of 6

By Marla Iyer and Kristen Winkworth, KAB Members

I remember it was Sunday at the 2018 International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC) Festival in Florence, Italy. And it was stinking hot. The port-a-potties were marginally better than they had been the day before. I won’t go into detail… you get the picture.

Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team had two races on the last day of the Festival at which 128 teams with over 3,000 people from 28 countries participated. Somehow, by the skin of our teeth, we managed to nose ahead and win this international participatory event!!

Kristen and I were flying home early Monday morning so we had already checked out of the hotel and had brought all our luggage with us to the venue. KAB member, Anna Candelori, had organized a celebratory dinner (win or lose, we raced our best) for after the races. There was no time to taxi back to the hotel so we all piled into the rented bus and drove into downtown Florence for dinner. We were famished. Ristorante Pizzeria was very quaint (as they all are in Italy!). We had a room to ourselves in the basement. I remember it was blessedly air conditioned… and I don’t even like air conditioning! But it was hot. And we had raced all day.  We were still wearing our race clothes. Again, you get the picture.

Story 5 of 6

By Jacqueline Draper, KAB Supporter

“As we begin to pry ourselves loose from old self-concepts, we find that our new emerging self may enjoy all sorts of bizarre adventures.”

Julie Cameron

Standing upon the banks of the Arno River, watching the kaleidoscope of paddlers in colourful team shirts slicing the water in tandem to the dragon boat drums, are the spectators of this world event. There are 128 Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Teams with over 3000 participants from 28 countries in the 2018 International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC) Festival, Florence, Italy. These teams represent countries from around the world with athletes who have rigorously trained to achieve a spot on the majestic dragon boat. All the toned, muscular arms paddle in synchronization as they coalesce for a global cause while competing under a flag that distinguishes their country. The fierce determination of the athletes and pulsating excitement of the competition encompasses the banks of the Arno River adorned with hundreds of team tents that comprise the athletes’ village in Cascine Park.

The City of Florence is filled with tourists, team supporters, merchants, and local citizens who have lined the streets to honour the dragon boat participants. The colourful team tents are filled with athletes who globally represent breast cancer survivors; each participant has their own personal story. Areas of Florence are adorned in pink in honour of these survivors and a celebratory Pink Parade of Nations kicks off the event along the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. The Arno River is filled with dragon boats representing the global nature of breast cancer honouring all those lost to the disease and all who have survived. It is Sunday, July 8th, 2018, second race day of the IBCPC Festival. Upon the banks of the Arno River are the supportive spectators. I am in the midst of this exuberant crowd and it is from this vantage point and narrative view that I provide my perspective of watching the final races on this memorable day. 

Story 4 of 6

By Jo-Anne Rogerson and Kim Short, KAB Members

“Your team becomes your family, the paddle becomes your best friend, the boat becomes your home and racing becomes your life.”

Paddlechica

This quote from the Paddlechica resonated with Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team as we prepared to participate in the International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC) Festival in Florence, Italy in 2018. So many considerations. Training, fundraising, travel, time away from work and family. Would we be ready? Could we perform as we had in the two previous IBCPC festivals, placing first at these participatory races?

The IBCPC is an ‘international organization whose mandate is to encourage the establishment of breast cancer dragon boat teams, within the framework of participation and inclusiveness.’ That does not preclude some teams from participating with the intent to perform their very best and competitively race down the course. We proudly wore the Canadian flag on our new uniforms and we came to compete in the biggest breast cancer survivors’ dragon boat festival that had ever taken place in the history of the sport.

We committed to months of intense training, indoors during the winter and outdoors in the spring, training camp in Sarasota FL, including drills and race preparation. Add in an endless number of sit-ups, pushups and cardio workouts, members of Knot A Breast were ready to compete at the IBCPC Participatory Dragon Boat Festival in Florence, Italy.

Story 3 of 6

By Kristen Winkworth, KAB Member

I joined the Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team in the summer of 2017, just after I finished my treatments and I had one more surgery to go that August. The team asked me if I would be interested in joining them the following summer in Florence, Italy for the International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC) Festival. My husband, Jim, and I discussed it for about 5 minutes. We decided that it would be an amazing opportunity for me to travel with the team and support our teammates as they raced.

At the beginning of 2018, I was nominated by our Knot A Breast executive to represent KAB as a Canadian paddler in the Sandy Smith Global Finale at the IBCPC Festival. I’ll be honest, when I was given this news, I cried and was filled with emotion. I was extremely honoured and very excited to be given this opportunity — especially as a ‘newbie’ —to participate in this important finale. I didn’t expect this.

I did my research ahead of time, because I wanted to know about Sandy Smith. I learned that she was an important woman and as I read more about her life, it further impacted my participation in this event. I read that the Sandy Smith Global Finale is an important tradition at all IBCPC festivals. The finale represents the global nature of breast cancer and it honours Sandy for the extensive work that she did to help new teams in the early years.

It was the most incredible experience! I was in a boat with teammates from around the world and this was truly amazing! There was a language barrier for many of us, but that didn’t matter. We sat in the boat, we smiled, chatted, laughed, hugged and cried together. We had an instant bond and we understood each other’s mixed emotions. There were women from Denmark, Argentina, Germany, Australia, U.S.A. and Canada in our boat. My seat-mate was from Australia and we spent time chatting and getting to know each other, and exchanged emails.

When Sandy’s husband and children spoke prior to the race, I felt a connection to them, having lost my own mother to breast cancer. I could hear in their voices how proud they were of their mom, just as I was of mine. As we paddled, I was paddling in memory of Sandy, a special women who was instrumental in helping to start dragon boat teams for breast cancer survivors in a variety of countries.

After the race, we remained in the boats for the Flower Ceremony, which was very emotional too. Hundreds of gerbera daisies with fuchsia petals were released into the river. The stemmed daisies adorned the river water representing all individuals lost to breast cancer, remembered and revered by those who witness this heart-moving event. The camaraderie of so many people from different countries coming together, all with a connection to each other was priceless. This was the beginning of healing for me in my journey, and it was the beginning of when I started to live my life again — living in the present moment and appreciating the simple things in life. I was able to finally let go of the emotional toll that had consumed my life since my diagnosis, throughout my surgeries and treatments while re-living my Mom’s journey. KAB has played an important role in this turning point in my life as well—helping me to see that there is life beyond breast cancer and that cancer doesn’t define me.

I am so grateful and I feel very honoured to have been part of this incredible experience! I will always treasure the special memories from the Sandy Smith Global Finale. For me, this was a very special role at the 2018 IBCPC Festival in Florence, Italy and I will always be grateful to Knot A Breast for giving me this opportunity. When I returned from Italy and my family and friends asked me about my experience, my first response was, “it’s about the people.” I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world!

Who was Sandy Smith?

Sandy Smith joined the first Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team, Abreast In A Boat, in Vancouver in its second year in 1997. Dr. Don McKenzie, who started the team for women with a history of breast cancer, recalls saying, “Well, if you want to look at how it’s supposed to be done on the water, have a look at Sandy Smith.”

As more Dragon Boat Breast Cancer Survivor Teams were springing up in Victoria and Montreal, and more women from around the world were reaching out about forming their own teams, Sandy enthusiastically stepped up to help them out. Sandy became the first Global Liaison, spreading the sport — and the message that breast cancer survivors can exercise — around the world.

In 2002, Sandy died from recurring breast cancer. In 2005, the first International Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat festival was held in Vancouver. Smith’s teammates came up with a plan to honour her with a special race: instead of pitting teams from around the world against each other, all the boats would be made up of paddlers from different teams and countries. The Sandy Smith Global Finale is held at all the international festivals, including the 2018 festival in Florence, Italy.

Story 2 of 6

By Shida Asmaeil-Yari, KAB Member

When I think back to 2018 International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC) Festival in Florence, Italy, I have fond memories while being there. Just being able to participate as a paddler was amazing. How many people can say that they paddled on the Arno River?

I was on a ‘composite team’ with some of our Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat (KAB) teammates. The composite teams consist of members from more than one Breast Cancer Survivor dragon boat team that come together just to race at the festival, because they do not have enough members from one team going to make up a full 20 racers in a boat. I really didn’t know what to expect while paddling with another team.

At the first practice we were introduced to a team from a very small town in France, Cambrèsis Dragon Boat Team from Caudry. They didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak French. However, we somehow communicated. Since we as KAB had more experience, the women from France followed everything we did while racing. The French team was very grateful for having us in their boat.

We noticed during practice that this team was very new at dragon boating, but they had so much fun just paddling.  I have always been competitive and also think everyone on KAB has a competitive streak. I realized while paddling with this team to just have fun; winning isn’t important. Having said this, we did win one of our races and the smiles on the French team were priceless. The France paddlers were so ecstatic to win their first ever race. They kept saying, “We love Canada!” and they hugged us tight.

When we got off at the dock I saw our KAB coach, Kathy Levy, with a big smile on her face. She was so proud of us not because we won a race but for being so helpful to these women. I came to the realization how fortunate we are as KAB to have a coach like Kathy. She might work us harder, but it all pays off in the end. She has taught us no matter how many races we win to always be humble.

Knot A Breast and Cambrèsis composite dragon boat team winning in Lane 3

Story 1 of 6

By Helen Shearer, KAB Member and Co-Chair IBCPC 2018 Registration Committee

Travelling to different places with Knot A Breast Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Team over the years has been a great source of pleasure and enjoyment for me. I have had the privilege to go to some truly unbelievable dragon boat festivals not only in Ontario, but also elsewhere in Canada from the east coast to the west coast, as well as Florida, Berlin, and Florence! Without a doubt the International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC) festivals are among the largest for Breast Cancer Survivor teams around the world. They are emotional, supportive, and inspirational events for Breast Cancer Survivors to attend. Officially, it is non-competitive, considered a participatory and celebratory event. But I have always thought that if organizers time the races… it is competitive!

With my Co-Chair, Shelley Lockley, for the 2018 IBCPC Festival in Florence, Italy, we were involved in the registration of our team, a unique experience that had its challenges… but nothing we couldn’t handle by grumbling to the event organizers who were most helpful even with a seven-hour time difference.  It was a big learning curve dealing with currency exchange, banking fees, payment deadlines, hotel choices, T-shirt sizing, as well as making decisions on accommodations for our team members. Using the list provided by IBCPC we based our choice on price, special event bus shuttles to and from the venue, and team members on a budget. We also didn’t want our team spread out in different hotel locations, preferring to stay together as a team! We are a team family, including supporters who travelled with us. Our final choice was comfortable, clean and reasonably priced. We were disappointed to learn when we arrived on site at registration that shuttles would not be provided for our chosen hotel… disappointing to say the least. Everyone managed by working together to take cabs, sharing the cost for getting around Florence. Besides, we only ate and slept at the hotel, which, by the way, had wonderful meals.

We were blessed with beautiful weather, hovering around 31 to 33 degrees C most days.  As a team we practice in similar temperatures in the month of July, Ontario’s hottest month. During the festival we had time to watch Breast Cancer Survivor (BCS) teams paddling up and down the Arno River powering to the finish line and doing their best!

The event organizers arranged a “team ambassador” for each BCS team who was our liaison person for help with language issues, restaurant recommendations, as well as places to visit throughout our stay.  Team Knot A Breast was fortunate to have a wonderful women, Anna-Gloria, as our ambassador.  She was extremely outgoing, friendly, warm, and inviting, and learned to love Breast Cancer Survivor dragon boating with a winning team! 

During our very warm racing days, water to drink was difficult to get, the water fountains were slow with warm water and long line-ups. There were no large grocery stores like we have in Canada. Fortunately for us, Anna-Gloria was well connected, arriving on a few occasions with much needed cold bottles of water and nutritional snacks in a large suitcase. Gloria’s help was much appreciated and well received; she was truly our Florence connection. 

Gloria arranged for our team to attend an evening at her Tuscany villa for a ‘rock concert’, with transportation, meal and refreshments. The evening was fantastic!

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We got to meet the band members as well as dance the evening away. One person who stood out especially with Knot A Breast in attendance was the part-time guitarist.  His full-time job was as a surgeon… a breast cancer surgeon! It was a fantastic evening to remember in the Tuscany hills. 

Our trip ended with a wonderful celebration dinner arranged by KAB member, Anna Candelori. We didn’t know how successful we would be so with two first-place wins for KAB, what a party it was! We gave it our all and it was a sweet win to end the festival and truly a trip of a lifetime full of many memories.

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.