My name is Cathie Lauer and breast cancer has changed my life. In 1996 I was diagnosed with this devastating disease. I was 44 years old with no known family history. I underwent all suggested medical treatment including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. As a Registered Nurse, I used my medical knowledge to investigate and participate in a number of adjuvant therapies including positive thinking tapes, inspirational books and availing myself of many books in our cancer clinic library. My goal was to give myself the best possible chance of survival.
I was one of the lucky ones who tolerated treatment fairly well. Recovering from surgery and treatments is only one part of the cancer journey. Getting back to living a “normal” life is perhaps even more challenging. It can be very difficult to believe that there can be “life after breast cancer”.
Even while undergoing treatment, I felt a very strong desire to help others cope with cancer diagnosis. I had read that women who attend support groups while undergoing cancer treatment live longer. We did not have a support group in my area, but, I found out that a former oncology nurse was going to start one. I contacted her and helped set up the Penticton Breast Cancer Support Group. I stayed involved with this for a number of years as a facilitator and co-facilitator. This group still exists and is a very crucial component for many women undergoing their cancer journey.
Perhaps the most exciting and beneficial area that I got involved in was Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boating. I became a representative of the Vancouver based Breast Cancer Alliance. I was fortunate enough to attend a conference in 1999 where I met a group of women who were starting a Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boat Team in Kelowna, British Columbia, about an hour away from my hometown of Summerland. I researched the history of dragon boating and the benefits for breast cancer survivors. I asked to join their team. I spent that summer commuting to practices in Kelowna and was hooked. Being a part of this group made me realize that women can lead active, challenging lives after treatment for breast cancer.
The following year I started a dragon boat team for breast cancer survivors in my city with the help of a close friend and fellow survivors, Sue Butchart and my family. We named ourselves “Survivorship” and we are The South Okanagan Survivors Dragon Boat Team Society. Our mission is to raise awareness about breast cancer, to support women going through treatment, to show women that they can have active and challenging lives after diagnosis and treatment and to help raise funds for research and education. We are known as the “ladies in pink” and are out and about in our community raising awareness about breast cancer. In our first year Survivorship raised funds to purchase our own dragon boat and equipment.
We have hosted educational forums, raised funds for “The Run for the Cure” and competed in numerous festivals throughout British Columbia. We have donated funds to a variety of breast cancer initiatives and in 2005 our team competed in the International Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver where we were crowned International Champions. In September 2007 we travelled to Australia to defend our title, and, while we did not come home with the gold medal, I truly believe that we are all champions…having fought and won our battles with breast cancer.
The Survivorship team has worked on a committee with the Penticton Hospital Foundation. We have helped raise more than $1 million dollars to purchase a Stereotactic Digital Mammography machine for our hospital. It is due to be installed this year.
Cancer changes a person in so many ways, and, as strange as it may sound, I feel that breast cancer has been a gift to me. I was forced to slow down and appreciate the truly important things in life such as family and friends. Cancer has provided me with unique challenges and opportunities including dragon boating. I have met many amazing survivors and supporters and have been touched by their stories and their courage. Cancer has allowed me to touch the lives of many women and I hope to continue to provide them with the support and encouragement to fight their own battles.
It is my hope that if breast cancer has touched your life that you will join us in our paddle towards a sense of teamwork, support and an active lifestyle after diagnosis and treatment.