It’s the offseason for dragon boat racing, but for the Langley team of 25 women fighting breast cancer their battle never ends.
The local dragon boat team is spending Breast Cancer Awareness Month doing community outreach.
“[A] common misconception was that women who have breast cancer shouldn’t do upper body exercise,” said Michelle Righetti, 51.
She’s team captain for Fort Langley’s Abreast in a Boat, joining the team about five years ago.
Abreast in a Boat is a charitable organization that raises awareness about how women can live full, active and healthy lives after a breast cancer diagnosis.
Team membership has one qualification – a breast cancer diagnosis.
“Everyone in the boat has had breast cancer so everybody knows what it’s like, and everyone’s got different stories,” she said. “We don’t really dwell on the cancer too much, but we know that we’ve got that support there if there’s anything going on.”
Righetti learned she had cancer eight years ago.
“I still have cancer,” she said. “I still have it in my bones, and there are probably four people on our boat that have had recurrences.”
It was Righetti’s doctor who noticed her collarbone was swollen and sent her for further testing, which revealed she had stage four cancer.
The next step was to learn where the disease originated – breast cancer.
Righetti was 43 years old when she received the news that the cancer had spread to her bones and her ovaries.
“I thought my life would be over,”she said. “I wouldn’t get to see my kids graduate.”
She immediately began radiation treatment.
“I’m so lucky. For me that worked,” she said.
Still, each month she receives an injection in her bones and everyday she is required to take medication to keep the disease stable.
“Now I’m racing in a boat and going on a ski trip for Christmas,” she said. “It’s not the sort of doom and gloom you think it’s going to be.”
Righetti joined the local dragon boat team after she met a woman at her gym wearing one of the team’s T-shirts.
“When I got cancer, I hadn’t lived here that long from England,” she said. “I thought I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but my Abreast in a Boat girls they take care of everything.”
The women on the team range in age from their 30s to their 50s.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, how fit you are, how big, how little, whatever it is, as long as you’ve had breast cancer, you’re on the team,” she said.
There’s a variety of roles on the team depending on a member’s fitness level. To race a dragon boat requires 20 paddlers, someone at the back to steer and a drummer at the front.
The public can meet members of the squad this coming weekend. The team will be at the annual Cranberry Festival in Fort Langley on Saturday to do their part for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
For more information about the organization visit www.abreastinaboat.com
“You can get past this. You can carry on and live your life as full as you want to,” said Righetti.