Beyond cancer: paddling the river

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 19, 2006. At the time, I was at my Cozy Comforts Boarding Kennels playing with the dogs in the play ring. That's when I got the call I had "cancer.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 19, 2006.

At the time, I was at my Cozy Comforts Boarding Kennels playing with the dogs in the play ring. That’s when I got the call I had “cancer.”

I literally dropped to the snow and just sat there listening – but not really registering anything else after I heard the word.

Noooooo!

I picked myself up and brought the next boarder to her room.

After the owners left, I walked to our house. I was just dazed and I remained that way for some time.

It’s like, “What? Cancer?”

And just how did I get here?

I grew up in Saskatchewan, a country girl in a country town, population of 250 people or so and went to a country school.

Baseball was big then, and Ski-Doos were becoming popular.

I’m one of the baby boomer kids.

I was living in Edmonton in 1973 and had a crappy Easter. It prompted me to call my friend, who was working in Whitehorse to make money for university.

“How’s the job situation up there?” I asked.

“Well, you have to be up here to see,” she said.

So, I packed the car.

I picked up a friend at the bus depot and off we went in my Z10 Datsun Hatchback.

Wow, what a trip it was back then.

Arriving in Whitehorse, we parked in front of the old log skyscrapers and I let out a raucous “whoohoo.”

I’ve been here since. Well, I left twice, but not for long – my friends and acquaintances here were too much. I had to come home.

Anyway, after enjoying the North and the great sports opportunities – women’s hockey, women’s fastball, mixed and women’s slowpitch, mixed and women’s curling – and music (I was fortunate to be in a band with a group of guys that were fabulous and we had a blast playin’ music on the weekends all over the Yukon). I’ll tell you, I am grateful for all that I’ve been able to experience here in the North.

Through all my work experiences in Whitehorse and really I had the opportunity to work with many great people, something I’m thankful for.

I was fortunate to work at Hougen’s Sports Department, then Canada Post and got a chance to go travel across Canada and, well, I had to go. Arriving back home here, I tried music as a profession – I really enjoy and love to sing. I love music.

Our band did well, had fun and enjoyed our music, but it ended.

Then I heard about the oil drill rigs in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT. Well I bugged them so much I think they hired me just so they wouldn’t have to hear from me again. Anyway, that was an experience and a half. I’m so thankful to have been able to work, live and laugh with all the people at camp.

It was an awesome life-learning experience.

I had the opportunity to work as a shipper/receiver for Gulf/Beaudril and it’s a memory I’ll always keep close to my heart. How all of us from west to east and the Canadian North were all up there and doing what we know how to do and all one big family is a memory I’ll always keep.

Then the drilling was stopped, the camp closed down and I was lucky enough to land a job at Yukon Electrical. Again, what a great group of people we have there.

I was able to work as a lineman for 2.5 years and a metre reader for 16 years. When I was reading meters and entering customers’ backyards and greeting their dogs, I realized how much I loved those dogs and I always had a dream of working with dogs. So, Cozy Comforts Boarding Kennels was built and established.

Oh what a joy that was.

Through the efforts of my partner and family, my dream came true.

A year later came the birth of my adopted daughter – she is my pride and joy.

Then I discovered a lump on my right breast that didn’t feel right.

Lump diagnosis – mastectomy March 28, 2006

You know the first thing I thought was breast cancer. I mean, has anyone else ever thought that?

And then you get it checked out and phew, it’s only a swollen gland.

Well that’s what I was thinking. “Oh, it’s only a swollen gland, you’re OK.”

Well – after a mammogram and a lumpectomy I discovered, while walking in my dog yard, that it was breast cancer.

Gals – do the mammogram. It’s not that bad considering it can save your life.

Eight days later, I had my mastectomy.

The surgeon

I can’t express enough how I feel about my surgeon and my doctor.

I feel I am very fortunate to have these two people in my life. They not only saved me, but also took the time to educate my partner and me through this journey and with much compassion – I thank you.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my surgeon called us in after all his operating was done for the day (which I’m so grateful for instead of having to wait till the next day) and he explained what was found, what might be the next steps and he drew out what and where the cancer was found.

He, in his professional, caring way, helped me and my family feel comfortable to get through it all.

When we got to the parking lot, I couldn’t stop the tears.

I don’t know to this day if they were tears of fear or what – but truly I was very scared. It was a relief. A part of me was gone, but my life was saved.

So I cried for the part of me that was gone, but was joyous for the rest of me.

Am I OK? I don’t know.

Should I be sad or glad? Well yes, glad – but what about the part of me that’s gone, diseased or not. What do I feel?

Oh it’s so much.

I feel deep in my heart for every woman with breast cancer and every woman with any type of cancer and every man with any type of cancer – it is ugly and horrible. And it is so trying for you and your family and friends.

God bless you all who have cancer and I hope and pray you win the fight. Keep fighting – that’s all we can do.

The recovery

Well with the support of my partner and little daughter, our parents and friends, our awesome staff at Whitehorse General Hospital, my doctor, our chemo angel nurses and the wonderful radiation people in Vancouver I’m here today to write this story.

Thank you so much!

My first Relay For Life was in 2006, and the support of family and friends I’ll never forget. I even got get well cards from the dogs who boarded with us at Cozy Comfort Boarding Kennels – how special is that.

I’m so grateful.

During the “survivors lap” (the first lap of the Relay for Life) my daughter and I were walking along with everyone and I was getting slower and slower (just had chemo two days prior and it can knock you down) and we ended up behind the gals with their Paddlers Abreast beautiful pink banner.

When I looked at that pink banner and those healthy lookin’ gals, I thought – yes, I want to do that too.

In the past I watched the Yukon River Quest and admired the Paddlers Abreast but never thought I’d get this close to them.

Well guess what, I am a Paddlers Abreast team member and darn proud of it.

This group of women are strong and driven to achieve and accomplish this extreme sport of the Yukon River Quest and to show and hopefully inspire other cancer survivors there really is quality of life after cancer.

I was afraid of the river and lakes, but I got into the Paddlers Abreast voyageur canoe with the gals and I tell you the empowerment and strength I felt from them in the boat and the river was absolutely unbelievable.

No longer was I afraid of the river – or afraid of what life had to offer. Wow, it was overwhelming.

These gals really are incredible. When you figure 742 kilometres to Dawson City, some gals, in the past, just one year after chemo and radiation, paddling in the boat – I feel so honoured to be there with these exceptional women.

I’m full of smiles and gratitude to be part of the team.

Along with all of us in the boat we are blessed with an awesome group who support us to the end. From our special man who launches our canoe and is there to pick up our canoe and us after practice, to our partners and families who sacrifice their time for us, to train and practise and look after us in Carmacks on race day, to our BIB supporters (Griffiths Plumbing and Heating/Superior Propane). Way to go, all you guys and gals. What a great family we have. And not to forget our friends who are there supporting and cheering us on. Thank you.

So now I’m presently employed with Canada Post. A great group of friends and fellow workers there! I thank you very much for all your support and kindness. And also for all your love!

Paddlers Abreast

All I can say about these women is that I’m so honored to be a part of Paddlers Abreast.

I joined the group after they made the River Of Life DVD. This documentary has helped and inspired women with breast cancer and people around the world!

I’ve admired the Paddlers Abreast in the past years and I feel very privileged to sit and paddle in this beautiful voyageur canoe with these amazing, strong, determined competitive women.

Paddle hard, girls. Paddle hard.

Editor’s note: Over the coming weeks leading up to their run down the Yukon River, we’ll be running stories by Paddler’s Abreast members. This is the second in the series.