Breast cancer victims remembered at festival

·3 min read

The sounds of music, cheering fans and laughter gave way to a moment of silence on the final day of the 21st annual Penticton Dragon Boat Festival, Sunday. Hundreds of breast cancer survivors with carnations in hand sat in their boats and took the time to remember their teammates who are no longer with them. As each of the names of the more than 20 women who have died were read out, survivors gently waved their flowers and consoled each other with hugs and tearful smiles. “It’s a tough day, it’s an emotional day,” said Ann McWhinnie, a member of the Penticton Survivorship team that she joined after her own battle with breast cancer. “What goes through your mind sitting out there in the boat is the sistership, the time we did get to spend with those who have left us and the good times we’ve had as a result of being part of a very strong team.

“You know, the interesting part is that all of these teams are very competitive but when push comes to shove everyone of those teams is part of that sistership and all of us would do anything for anyone on the other team.” McWhinnie learned she had breast cancer about 14 years ago and underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. “But this is about today, and today we are showing the world that cancer victims can survive and live a productive life. That we can fight it and go forward and come out the other side,” she said. “We’ve all gone through it and we’re all in it together and we want to help people who have breast cancer now along their journey — we know it’s a tough journey.” Her teammate, Chris Benrahmouni, has just completed her own journey after learning she had a rare form of the cancer three years ago. “I’m racing because I beat it,” she said with a big smile. “I beat it for my mom who is still with us, I have sisters and I have a daughter and I just wanted to give the boots to it. “So, if I can beat this, I can beat anything.” Survivorship finished in second spot in the A Division of the Breast Cancer Challenge race, finishing just hundredthss of seconds behind the winners, the North Shore Dragon Busters. There were eight survivor boats at this year’s festival that attracted more than 2,000 paddlers and 60 teams. It was the first full event in three years. Overall, festival organizer Don Mulhall described the return of the full event as something that was badly needed. “Everybody is just so glad to be back, they just can’t get over it. It’s been a long couple of years waiting to get back,” he said. “Yesterday was as perfect a day as we’ve ever had in terms of conditions and racing, everything was perfect.”

Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Penticton Herald