Three Abreast In A Boat Revisited
The March 2011 issue of The Bulletin featured three women—Esther Matsubuchi, Patricia Tanaka and Vivian Omori—all breast cancer survivors and members of Abreast in A Boat (AIAB), an international group of dragon boaters that began in Vancouver in 1996. The first team was put together by a local sports medicine expert, Dr. Don McKenzie, who wanted to disprove the common wisdom that breast cancer survivors should not engage in activities that used the upper body muscles as doing so would bring on lymphedema, a painful condition which causes a debilitating and permanent swelling of the arms.
The trial was a success; ongoing monitoring of the women by a sports medicine physician, a physiotherapist and a nurse showed no negative symptoms. Not a single woman on the team developed lymphedema, leading to changes in the way breast cancer survivors are counselled by their doctors. The women on that first team (including Esther Matsubuchi) went on to become role models for women around the world and there are now over 160 teams world-wide.
Since the story ran in the March issue, the women have been busy practicing, paddling in regattas, raising awareness of the sport, and encouraging other breast cancer survivors to lead full and active lives. As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (kicking off with the CIBC Run for the Cure), the Bulletin decided to check in with our favourite dragon boaters.
In Their Own Words
PatriciaTanaka • EstherMatsubuchi • VivianOmori – Interview
In addition to training and paddling I understand AIAB participates in various events throughout the year to spread their message and mission statement. What kinds of events do you take part in?
Patricia Tanaka Yes, we are busy all year round. I’ve been promoting our mission at events such as the Scotiabank Half Marathon where I was fortunate to be one of the medal presenters. We had our AIAB information booth at the Richmond Ship to Shore Festival in Steveston as well at the September Ladner Village Farm Market. Many of us marched in the Ft. Langley Parade and in the Canada Parade where our pink dragon is always a hit.
At the Women’s Regatta and the Rio Tinto Alcan International Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver, I had the honour of giving the commentary on the Breast Cancer Challenge race and flower ceremony as well as sharing the stage with Mayor Robertson as he proclaimed June 12, 2011 Abreast In A Boat Day. In June I was also a delegate to the World Conference on Breast Cancer in Hamilton, Ontario. At our AIAB display we were able to connect with many doctors, researchers, survivors, and support groups from around the world.
Esther Matsubuchi There are always so many events for AIAB members, both during our regular April-June season, and during the rest of the year. The Alcan Rio Tinto Regatta and the Women’s Regatta held in False Creek each June are well-known events attended by people from the Lower Mainland and around the world. As for me, in May I attended the launch of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s “Pink Bus Tour” at the Vancouver Art Gallery before it went off on its BC tour to remind women to book their mammograms at 1-800-GO-HAVE-1. Later that month I attended the “Boob Tour” in Surrey to raise breast cancer awareness, and in June, I joined other survivors in the 1st lap of the “Relay for Life” in North Vancouver, and provided inspiration for the Sutherland Secondary School’s “Cancer Awareness Club” which my daughter Wendy sponsors.
This September I participated in the PoCo “Home Town Run,” so named because Port Coquitlam is where Terry Fox started his race. Along with Rolly Fox, Christie Clark and thousands of others, I helped spread cancer-awareness. On the 22nd, we took our sponsors out paddling on False Creek and I was asked to make a speech. I told the sponsors that I was so happy that breast cancer research now allows breast cancer survivors like me to knit, play the piano, work in our gardens and otherwise enjoy a full life without the fear of lymphodema. Until I explained myself, they laughed—completely unaware that all breast cancer survivors once feared the lymphodema associated with post-breast cancer existence. I’m looking forward to joining the “Run for the Cure” in Vancouver on October 2nd; I think this is my fifteenth year running for the Cure. When I return from Malaysia, I have already been invited to talk with high school students about my trip to Malaysia and AIAB.
Vivian Omori I’ve been participating in the Run for the Cure ever since I completed my treatments so the one next weekend will be my fourth. When Safeway has their breast cancer awareness promotion, AIAB members are asked to volunteer to man their information booth—I’ve volunteered at the Blundell Centre & Seafair Shopping Centre Safeways in Richmond. We’ve also set up information booths at Farmers Markets in Steveston & Ladner to spread the word about AIAB. Whenever any of our sponsors require volunteers, a call goes out to our members. I’ve given out medals at the Scotia Bank Half Marathon the last couple of years and helped Select Roses at a trade show.
I understand that you hold new member meetings for those interested in joining AIAB, either for paddling or as a support group. Can you provide information on this meeting for those who might be interested in joining?
EM Paddlers must be breast-cancer survivors. Others may only be ‘supporters.’
PT We just had a very successful introductory paddle with 22 prospective new members. We have a tentative date for our new member information meeting on January 7, 2012. Our website: www.abreastinaboat.com has great information for anyone interested. To obtain information about joining us, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You are heading overseas later this month, taking your message of awareness and quality of life to a regatta in Malaysia. Why did AIAB choose this particular regatta?
EM Malaysia is holding the first World Cancer Regatta in Kuala Lampur October 21-23, 2011. AIAB was invited to this first cancer regatta, and I’ll be in Malaysia October 16-28 for this event. I think that about 40 paddlers and family members will be there. AIAB wishes to promote all cancer awareness, education and support in Malaysia and in Asia in generally, since cancer is still largely a taboo subject there.
PT Since breast cancer survivor dragon boating started in Vancouver with AIAB, we are frequently invited to be part of any regatta which wants to raise awareness about breast cancer. We were asked to participate in this International regatta as there is a breast cancer and cancer theme. There will be a huge audience as about 1500 participants from youth to seniors as well as thousands of spectators will be there. The Chair of the Festival will be speaking about Abreast In A Boat in the opening ceremonies. We are thrilled to be part of this great event and the opportunity to reach so many people with our message.
I received so much positive feedback about the March Bulletin article—what was the response to the article within the Nikkei community from your perspective?
PT There was genuine interest in our mission and how it could impact the lives of other survivors and their supporters.
EM I received many phone calls and emails from family, friends, and from people I’ve not contacted for years, as they read the article, or heard about it from mutual friends. Everyone congratulated me and some were surprised I was still at it after sixteen years, so I reminded some that there is a full life to be lived after breast cancer.
VO The responses to the article were all positive. I think it did show people who were unaware that having breast cancer doesn’t mean you stop enjoying life.
Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers as you head off to Malaysia?
EM I want everyone to know that AIAB is always welcoming new members, and just in case anyone thinks they are too old or shy or out of shape to join us, our only criteria are enthusiasm and a history of breast cancer. AIAB provides its members with fitness, friendship, fun and many, many opportunities locally and internationally to spread positive news about breast cancer and raise funds for a world without breast cancer.
PT As we are the only Breast Cancer Dragon Boat from Canada at this festival we are hoping to demonstrate to the audience and other dragon boat crews that cancer or other diseases or disabilities does not limit your quality of life, especially if you have the support of family, friends, and community.