Laurie Cullen (left) preparing for a dragon boat race with her team the Prince Rupert Rainbow Warriors in 2012. Facebook photo.

Laurie Cullen paddles against an ‘insidious disease’

Prince Rupert’s Laurie Cullen and her Amazons team are relaying to show there is life after cancer

Prince Rupert’s Laurie Cullen knows just how smart cancer is.

The development and potential spread of the disease in the body is as cunning and devious as any villain in any tale, which is what makes the triumph over cancer that much more powerful – and the losses that much more devastating.

“It’s a real insidious disease,” Cullen said last week.

“It hides in your body and all of a sudden there it is. It’s constantly reinventing itself. [Doctors] stop it here, and then it pops up somewhere else.”

Just in the past year alone, three people in Cullen’s congregation at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church have passed away from the disease. One death is too many, but that is a huge loss in such a small time frame for the tight community.

Cullen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. Early detection and effective treatment helped her finish treatment by summer 2001, however, she kept taking a couple different hormonal drugs for the next 10 years.

When she first learned of her disease, Cullen stood emotionally in front of her congregation and asked for support. It came in spades, and has for every parishioner for decades.

“Because of that, Sheila [Seidemann] told me she got involved with the Relay for Life, so it’s pretty amazing, very powerful,” Cullen said.

Not only fighting her own battles against cancer, but Cullen saw her husband, mother, sister-in-law, and close friends inflicted in the years after her own diagnosis. They were all told by doctors “You have cancer.”

“I relay in hopes that someday nobody will have to hear those words, because it’s tough,” she said.

“So I hope one day there will be a cure and I [relay] just to show everybody that there is life after cancer. You can have a full abundant life.”

Cullen has been a part of Relay for Life for more than 20 years. This year she’ll walk the survivor lap with the Amazons team.

In her recreational time, Cullen is active in dragon boat paddling, tennis and hiking.

“We started [paddling] with 11 breast cancer survivors at that time and so we were very close. We fundraised and we got a boat, but since that time we’ve lost a number of them to cancer and then others have moved away. Some people don’t want to be reminded, so they don’t come out,” she said.

One highlight was the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival, where the team had purchased their first dragon boat mere weeks before, and they raced among 180 teams for top spot.

The team has 40 members going into the season this year.

“We had only paddled before in a canoe and when we went down there it was pretty amazing. They have the breast cancer race, where it’s just breast cancer teams that compete, and then they have a ceremony after that – very emotional,” Cullen said.

Always staying positive is a hallmark for those fighting the disease, and the Rupertite gets irked whenever some people post about ineffective treatment and that the programs are a sham.

“They say that there really is a cure for cancer and they’re just not telling us, and all the money that’s being raised isn’t being used correctly. Number one it’s not true, and I’d hate to see people not go the regular route for cancer treatment [because of the things being said]. They do so many trials and it’s all documented and I think in B.C., we have one of the best cancer programs,” she said.

“It’s really hurtful when you have someone get cancer for no reason. They’re healthy, they don’t have any bad habits and they get it and they died. It didn’t matter what was done, you want to have somebody to blame, but really, the program here is awesome and they’re making progress.”

You can donate to the Amazons online at the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life Prince Rupert website or through Facebook at Relay for Life – Prince Rupert.