This group is a life saver

Life is good! Sunrise on a calm Atlin Lake under a blue sky. And I am alive. I knew it was going to be a good day to go paddling with Paddlers Abreast.

Life is good!

Sunrise on a calm Atlin Lake under a blue sky. And I am alive.

I knew it was going to be a good day to go paddling with Paddlers Abreast.

Spring break 2006 is etched in my memory. Not because it was a fun break, but because it was the scariest time of my life so far.

A few years before I had finally moved to the place of my dreams, Atlin, with my family, bought a house and landed a job.

Life was good. My kids and my husband and I were all enjoying ourselves.

But I started to see changes in the nipple of my right breast. During a physical exam in early March my doctor did a needle biopsy right there.

I got the results back on March 10. I had breast cancer. I saw the surgeon a week later and had a mastectomy four days later.

My life was put on hold.

Recovery from surgery, plans for chemo and radiation were now my life. The first phone call to the cancer agency using my cancer patient number was something I had never expected to have to do.

I dialed, they answered. I disconnected and cried. I couldn’t do it. I sat there for a while.

Then I dialed again, and was able to go through with the call.

Once you were in the system and got used to it, be it your first chemo or your first anti-nausea medication, you knew you could call any time and all the nurses and doctors were there to help. My cancer was fast growing and had already spread to the lymph nodes. In other words, it could be really anywhere in my body. That’s a scary feeling.

The eight chemo treatments took their toll, finally weakening me to where I really didn’t have much left to give. The friend who drove me around and tried to find something I could eat with my sore mouth and who delivered me to the emergency when my blood count was too low and I was feverish, can attest to that.

After the first chemo dose given to me in Vancouver, I was able to get the rest of the chemo in Whitehorse. Thankfully there is a friendly place with a friendly nurse with a friendly quilted blanket waiting for you every time you come in for your injection every three weeks.

The radiation took the rest. It zapped my energy levels. I received 16 treatments at the Cancer Agency in Vancouver. They were spread over five weeks, because there are the initial measurements and tattooing to take place and then there were weekends and long weekends etc. that extended the stay at the cancer lodge.

There, life is a world of its own. Everybody is going through cancer treatment of some sort. You realize, quickly, you are actually not doing so badly. Lots of people have it worse.

Back in Atlin, after five weeks in Vancouver, resting in my bed looking out over the lake and the mountains, I didn’t know if I had it in me to come back. That is when my doctor told me about a group in Whitehorse called Paddlers Abreast. On my doctor’s orders I contacted them.

I showed up for my first meeting and practice at the pool with the paddlers and the rest is history, as they say.

I was welcomed into the group of supportive women who had gone through similar events and had fought back. Among them, I realized I could get back in shape and get my life back. My family had, of course, been incentive enough for me to want to fight to stay alive, but now I also had a support group to help me.

Arriving in Dawson City after my first Yukon River Quest was a glorious feeling of accomplishment.

I had done it. It was a hard battle, but with a lot of practice and camaraderie and support, it was possible.

I was able to get back to life, get my strength back and recover enough brain capacity to return back to work two years after the diagnosis.

Today I am alive and healthy and strong. Life is good. The paddling was fantastic today.

The start of this year’s race is June 30. But before that there is a 10-year celebration of Paddlers Abreast on June 23.

Thank you, Paddlers Abreast. You saved my life.

Part of a series.