Friends Abreast dragon boat team members support each other on and off the water, an attribute that was clearly visible recently.
On Aug. 4, as Melanie Gotell completed her last chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer at Shuswap Lake General Hospital in Salmon Arm, her dragon boat teammates were waiting outside to give her special recognition. They stood in two rows facing each other, their paddles held up and crossing over, creating a ceremonial paddle archway for her to walk through.
This is the second time Gotell has undergone treatment for breast cancer.
Teammate Liz Burdeniuk, who has been with the team since its beginnings in 2002, said the team does paddle arches for different occasions. They did it when a team member passed away. They’ve done it after dragon boat races, particularly following the Carnation Ceremony. At that time each paddler tosses a carnation into the water, providing a moment for everyone to think about people who have died and those who are fighting the disease.
Friends Abreast was the first dragon boat team in Salmon Arm, Burdeniuk said, and is made of up of both survivors and friends. She said their mandate is to raise awareness of breast cancer in the community.
Although paddling – both practising and competing – is a large part of their focus, they have participated in other things. Those include the Carnation Campaign where they have handed out tags reminding people to get mammograms; volunteering at the mammogram clinics; and participating in several events including Relay for Life, the Luminary Walk, the Terry Fox Run and the Fall Fair parade.
At the Salmon Arm hospital, when a patient has done their last chemo treatment, staff will ring a bell to recognize their accomplishment, Burdeniuk said. The patient may also have friends and family there cheering.
Because of COVID-19, the Friends Abreast paddlers wanted to recognize Melanie Gotell’s accomplishments – but outdoors.
“We thought it would be really nice if we could ring the bell out there and do the paddle arch. She’s had a rough go of it.”