Janice McAuley knows what it’s like to lose a year of her life.
One of the original members of the Hope Afloat dragon boat team in Comox, McAuley recalls what it was like to have cancer.
“Between chemo and radiation, it takes a whole year out of your life. Support is huge,” she notes.
After finishing her treatment for breast cancer, she explains she had to find a way to transition back to life. But life post-cancer wasn’t what it used to be, and she found the support — emotional, mental and physical — just wasn’t there.
“It’s gone, and you’re life has changed. You need to find something to keep your balance and support.”
Thanks to a suggestion from her chemo-mate, that’s exactly what McAuley did.
Following her treatment, she connected with the dragon boat team, and found an avenue which supports and encourages women of all ages, and now, all cancers, to encourage a heathy lifestyle through dragon boating.
“It’s now a worldwide phenomenon,” she says. “It began as a small group in 2001 – mostly as a support group – but they decided to create a team.”
The team began as a group for women who had battled breast cancer, but they quickly realized they wanted to open the doors to women of all cancers, explains McAuley.
The sport continues to grow, and currently there are half a dozen teams in the Comox Valley, she adds, but Hope Afloat is the only team dedicated to women who have had cancer.
Currently, they have about 35 members, but they hope to increase membership to around 40.
The team participates in races, anywhere from Vancouver to Port Hardy, but in past years, they have ventured to Seattle for large events.
Paddler Glenda Wilson, along with her teammates Leona Peter and Melanie Bagley, says there are various reasons for joining the team, including support, well-being, and a sense of community.
“To have fun is very important; it’s our number one priority,” she adds.
In addition to its work in the water, the team gives back to the community in a variety of ways, including two bursaries, a tag day for the cancer care department at St. Joseph’s Hospital and a workshop dealing with the fear of cancer reoccurrence.
“Living with a Dragon workshop was excellent … it was something we did last fall, and when you have cancer, there’s not much available or much programming afterwards,” says Bagley.
“It was cutting edge – almost 100 people attended and we’re hoping to do it again this fall. “Many cancer survivors live with fear, and they don’t live a full life; many people don’t realize they end up living with the dragon.”
McAuley notes the team accepts ‘support’ members – those who may not have battled cancer themselves, but have a close connection to someone who does. She adds there is no age limit to joining the team either.
The team practises at the Comox harbour, Saturday mornings until the end of the month, and Tuesday and Thursday evening until the end of September.
For more information about the team, visit hopeafloatcanada.ca or any woman interested in joining, email firstname.lastname@example.org.