Posted: Sep 8, 2012 6:41 PM by Laura Wilson - KAJ News
Updated: Sep 18, 2012 8:37 PM
BIGFORK - Nearly 20 years ago, a Vancouver doctor formed a dragon boat team of breast cancer survivors, in hopes of disproving the theory that they could develop disorders or complications from doing anything with their upper body.
None of the survivors developed disorders-and once the tests were over, they wanted to keep going with the sport.
The dragon boat movement spread quickly and on Sept. 8, it reached Montana for the first time. Dozens of women showed great strength in order to raise awareness for a disease that once made them feel very weak.
Barb White, with Team Abreast in the Rockies, said, When you have breast cancer, you just want to be normal again. Being on the dragon boat-not only do you sort of feel normal, but you realize you're powerful. You can do anything, and you're alive for this moment and this time."
While teams battled it out for the state's first dragon boat championship title, they also helped raise money for Save a Sister-a Flathead organization that helps women with their battle against breast cancer.
Cancer survivor and Save a Sister volunteer Katie Brown said many people are dealing with the disease. "If I can let one other person who's afraid and overwhelmed know that its okay and you have a lot of support-that to me means everything."
Breast cancer survivors say this race isn't so much about crossing the finish line first as it is about celebrating the journey they've taken to get there.
For some survivors, that journey has been a strenuous and indefinite one.
Mary Jane Willard has beaten cancer five times, but was starting another go-round. She said just before the race, doctors found another mestastis, in her liver for the fourth time. "After this race, I go back home to Houston and I probably will start another round of chemotherapy," Willard said. "I almost didn't make it. I talked to my doctor and asked if it was okay to come and he said 'Yes, you have to still live your life. It's not a death sentence or anything.' So I said 'okay.'"
The event brought in teams of breast cancer survivors and supporters from over North America. Each team represented a different breast cancer organization, but they all came with the same message.
Cancer survivor Terri Snider, with team Pink Phurry, said, "It's real important that women understand that there is life after cancer. If you get in the boat, you're a winner. It means you have guts. It means that you have strength, passion, and courage-and that's what it's about."
Willard said she was out to prove she could do it. "I've gone through cancer, I've gone through everything. If I had to die today, I would be the happiest person alive."