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Cancer survivors hit the water in Vernon Dragon Boat Festival

The Buoyant Buddies are a Dragon Boating team made up of cancer survivors.
Image Credit: Eileen Gilbert
August 13, 2013 - 5:00 AM

VERNON - A group of breast cancer survivors are making up for lost time. When Eileen Gilbert was diagnosed with breast cancer more than a decade ago, she was told she wasn't allowed to exercise or perform any repetitive motions.

"We were told we couldn't even wash windows," Gilbert says.

But then B.C. doctor Don McKenzie proved the precaution was unfounded and not proven to cause the feared lymphedema, a painful swelling of the arm that can be experienced by breast cancer patients and survivors. In the mid 1990s, McKenzie launched Abreast in a Boat, a dragon boating team made up of breast cancer patients and survivors. Not only was the exercise proven not detrimental to the women's health, it was actually shown to be beneficial. Since then, dragon boating has been a symbol of strength for those battling cancer.

"I feel so good," Gilbert says of her twice weekly workouts with her team, Buoyant Buddies. "When you're out on the water, you're free."

The team is made up of women from their 30s to their 80s, hailing from Armstrong to Oyama, and Gilbert says the camaraderie they share is cherished.

"We've all been through the same thing. We understand each other," she says.

The boaters only paddle on one side, and Gilbert says she has impressive muscles, but only on the one side.

"I'm very proud of that muscle," she says with a laugh. "It's dog hard work."

The team has entered numerous competitions both near and far. They earned second place in a Salmon Arm race earlier this summer, and are heading to Florida next year.

"We always aim to win, and we do pretty well," she says.

Nothing compares to being on the boat with the other survivors, and Gilbert says she'd be missing something great in her life if she didn't have the team.

"We've put our cancer behind us and moved on," she says.

The Buoyant Buddies have lost ten members over the past ten years due to recurring cancer. At the Dragon Boat Festival in Vernon on August 17, carnations will be tossed into the water in memory of those lost to cancer.

"We paddle for them," Gilbert says.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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