Slaney Purple Paddlers proving there's life after breast cancer
Recovering from a major illness is an onerous task, slowly adapting to normal life, to the physical demands you once took for granted.
For many this can be a lonely journey, despite the support of family and friends. However, a group of Wexford women who have survived one of life's deadliest diseases have come together to create a support group with a difference.
The Slaney Purple Paddlers were officially formed in 2017, their aim to provide a place for breast cancer survivors to come and exercise together. That exercise takes the form of dragonboating, a team watersport involving up to 22 people which has been proven to alleviate long-term symptoms of breast cancer such as lymphoedema (swelling of the hands and arms).
'Physically it's very good for the upper body and for anyone with lymphoedema swelling,' says one of the group's founders Deirdre Heffernan. 'Last year my lymphoedema therapist said she'd never seen my arm as good when we were out paddling regularly.'
Following a successful 2018, which saw the Purple Paddlers get out on the water on a weekly basis throughout the summer, the group is now keen to spread the word, to bring like-minded individuals together. Committee Member, Catherine Wallace, is quick to stress that the group welcomes people of all ages and all abilities.
'We give people a form which they can fill out and bring to their doctor,' says Catherine. 'They know what they're coming to do and they do it in an informed way, it's always safety first.'
And if you're afraid of the water, those fears will be addressed too. 'We've had some people who were terrified of water, so we had a session over in the pool where we showed them how the life-jackets kept them up and it made all the difference to people,' explains Mairead Breen who helms the dragonboat. 'We even did a practise capsize in the water just to feel how the buoyancy aid keeps you afloat. And we have a safety boat out with us every time.'
Although annual membership costs €100, a fee which includes use of the showers and lockers at Wexford Harbour Boat and Tennis Club (WHBTC), lifejackets and paddles, newcomers can avail of two trial runs at a cost of just €2.
Contrary to what some might assume, the topic of breast cancer doesn't come up all that often during the Purple Paddlers weekly meets.
'Sometimes the breast cancer is not even mentioned,' says Deirdre. 'One lady said she was afraid to join because we'd all be talking about it. But if you don't want to, that's not a problem.'
'It's not a big dramatic topic, that's not what it's about,' agrees Mairead. 'It's a boating thing where we know it's good for us and for our confidence. Everyone acknowledges the breast cancer, but its not something we dwell on.'
Although the group is exclusively female, there is one man who has become something of an honorary member.
'Ollie Mahon of WHBTC is our only male member,' confirms Mairead. 'We wouldn't be where we are without him and the rest of the club members. They've done so much to help us get this going.'