To fight something like cancer, for Lois Chappell it was important to remember to forget once in a while.
Like too many in the family before her, in 2003 Chappell was diagnosed with cancer. The news came one and a half years after her mother’s diagnosis, after her son’s, her great niece’s and her brother’s to which he lost his life.
“When I got mine it was the same time my husband was terminal with a lung disease,” she said. “I was under a lot of strain. My dad was [also] dying, my husband was dying, my mom just got over breast cancer and now I’ve got it too. It was just one thing after another.”
But Lois is a real fighter, as she puts it. She pushed through open heart surgery at the age of 46 and 11 years later she would beat breast cancer too.
“You’ve got to face it. You’ve got no choice. You’ve got it and they can’t instantly take it away.”
Shortly after her last radiation treatment, a time most survivors use to rest and recover, Chappell was forced back on her feet to mind the family business and look after her ailing husband.
That’s when a friend, also a survivor, compelled her to join the local dragon boat team, the Rainbow Warriors. With the camaraderie of her teammates on the open water, muscles burning, looking back on the city, the stress over her recovery and the worries about her husband dropped away for a couple of hours two nights a week.
She describes it as a lifesaver. In fact, if there is wisdom gleaned from her experience with cancer, it’s to push others to find their own escapes. Even the most fierce of warriors need to take five during a fight for their lives.
“Take every treatment you can get, do what your doctor says and get active and eat good. And don’t dwell on it. Get something to get your mind off it. Take up a hobby or go for a walk or talk to somebody. You know, you can’t just sit there and expect other people to wait on you.
“You’ve gotta try. You can’t just sit around.”
Since those first paddle strokes on the water 15 years ago, dragon boating has been a big part of Chappell’s life. It’s with sadness she and the executive were unable to form a team this year, but she remains hopeful public interest in the sport will return in 2020.
“You don’t need to be a survivor to join, but if you are it’s a special kind of camaraderie. During regattas, you take about four or five boats to what they call a carnation ceremony…everybody starts to cry because it brings back all your fears of what you started with. But then you realize everybody around you is the same. And so it’s like a big family almost. It helps you get through it. You need somebody to help you get through because cancer is a scary word.”
The Relay for Life will take place on May 25 at the Prince Rupert Middle School track from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.