Breast cancer survivors navigate rough waters of diagnosis on dragon boat team

For women between 40 and 49, the chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer is relatively low. Being diagnosed at 40 and younger is even more rare. A group of ladies in Calgary dealing with that early diagnosis is connecting to show that conquering cancer is possible.

Shelley Brown is in the early stages of her diagnosis. She was 41 years old when she got the news.

“I was like, ‘What? I just don’t understand,’” Brown said. “It was very eye-opening. Being naive I thought breast cancer is breast cancer, it’s not the case.”

Shelley Brown.

Brown joined the Sistership Dragon Boat Association. There are other women who have long survived a breast cancer diagnosis who are a living example to the others.

Joanie Snodgrass, now 53, has been cancer free for decades.

“I was very young when I was diagnosed. I was 29. I never did get pregnant because after that I went right into menopause. I never did have kids, I got a tumour instead,” Snodgrass said.

Laura McNeill and Joanie Snodgrass.

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Karin McGown was diagnosed when she was a new mom at 39 years old. She’s now 58.

“This is a perfect way to get myself back to something I am familiar with and I think this has really helped,” McGown said.

They have proven, at any stage of life, they can lean on each other for support through this journey. Rani Wong was diagnosed in her early 40s.

“I just fell apart. I have three children so it was a horrifying thought that I could leave them on their own,” Wong said.

Over time she’s gained a new perspective and shares it with her fellow rowers.

“When I’m doing the 10th load of laundry and I’m getting upset I think, ‘No, no, no,’ I’m grateful to be alive and to be able to sit here and do my children’s laundry,” Wong said.

Sistership on Glenmore reservoir.

This sistership is launching a fundraiser to help support dragon boat challenges across the country and other future adventures. Linda Cochran is one of the survivors on the team.

“It’s called 22 hearts one goal. We thought it might be an idea to ask people to buy a heart for $500 or more and their name would go on a heart on our boat,” Cochran said.

The boat already bears the names of the warriors who paddled with them, but didn’t survive the battle. Those heroes are always there with them carving through the waters together.

“We have this bond so incredibly deep,” Snodgrass said.

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