I was 31 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. “You are young and healthy; you’ll handle the treatments well” the doctors said. But you just said I had breast cancer I would think to myself, how could I also be ‘healthy.’ It was hard to believe, me with breast cancer? I had no family history, I ate my vegetables, never smoked – yep, young and healthy.
The nine months of intense treatments left me with crushing fatigue and so weak that is started to feel like my new normal. I first heard about the Mississippi Sisters dragon boat team from a fellow survivor, a whole dragon boat full of breast cancer survivors. Finding a way to get out on the water more was something I had wanted to do more of, and the upper body physical activity I knew would be good for healing and recovery.
The first day in the dragon boat sitting in row 10, trying to do my best to keep up with the timing and plunge the paddle into the water rushing by the boat, I knew I was hooked. Or as they say ‘bitten by the dragon.’ During my first year of paddling in 2018, I was introduced to the La Crosse Paddling Club.
The La Crosse Paddle Club opened so many opportunities beyond the opportunity to paddle with the Mississippi Sisters. I had paddled before but taking the time to learn more of the techniques and proper paddling methods made the experience all the more enjoyable. The safety instruction gave me new confidence on the water. The Small Water Craft paddling nights and Paddlefest provided amazing opportunities to learn from expert paddlers from the Driftless region and a variety of options with canoe, kayaks and stand up paddle boards. The instructors were not only knowledgeable but also clearly passionate about paddling – they made even the first timers feel like pros by the end of the session.
One year after treatment ended, in July 2019, I traveled to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with my husband, brother, and parents for a 5-day trip paddling for 45 miles over 20 lakes. The BWCA was never a place I thought I could experience. The ability to paddle myself to amazing sights into the vast wilderness renewed more of the confidence in my body I had lost after spending so many days during chemotherapy and radiation unable to get off the couch.
I really had the LPC to thank for such a successful trip. I not only did I learn good tips on going to the BWCA but they equipped me with the techniques to make it happen, which was a great reassurance paddling through the rough and choppy waters we experienced on Alpine Lake.
Even with treatment behind me, the grey cloud of cancer sometimes lingers closer than I would like. The Mississippi Sisters has been just the group of women I need. We were not there for breast cancer, it just so happened we have that in common. In this group, we can joke about practicing in the rain would get our hair wet grateful to have hair again, then get right back to paddling drills with Coach Lori.
Many life lessons learned from going through treatment became helpful in the boat. Paddling is not always about speed and force, patience is needed. One cannot paddle a dragon boat alone; it takes trust in your whole team to really make it fly across the water.
Anyone can paddle and joining the La Crosse Paddling Club events makes it so easy and accessible. They have the boats, gear, expertise, and life jackets. Just remember to bring water and sunscreen.
I hope I don’t see you in the Mississippi Sister boat, but if you find yourself on the breast cancer ‘detour’, know you are not alone and we have a seat for you in our dragon boat – Paddles Up!