The International Pink Sisters Dragon Boat Team of 20 courageous women, who had never met, descended upon Venice in May of 2008. These women came from different parts of Canada and the United States.
The women had several things in common. They were all breast cancer survivors and dragon boat paddlers. Their mission was to raise breast cancer awareness.
These brace women wanted to support the two Italian breast cancer teams to raise breast cancer awareness in Italy by paddling in the Vogalonga Race. They paddled along side the 1,537 other participants 25 kilometers down the beautiful Venice Grand Canal.
This is a great feat, as most races for all dragon boat teams are 500 meters long. So, to do 25 kilometers was very extraordinary.
To see the 3 breast cancer dragon boat teams all dressed in PINK, the symbol of HOPE for breast cancer survivors, paddle down the canal was amazing.
In September, 2009, the team comprised of South Africans, Americans, and Canadians, went to Lac de Joux, Switzerland. Patsy Allen, the Swiss organizer said that they loved the Pink Carnation Ceremony, and hoped to make it a part of their festival every year. These women truly spread their motto, Together we have hope, courage, and strength. Together we paddle!
Showing other survivors spirit through their team song, That’s What Friends Are For, the Pink Sisters arrived home with new friends and a Gold in the Womens’ Division.
June, 2010, a team of women from New Zealand, America, and Canada, participated in the International Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Festival in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
In 2012 it was extremely rewarding to race in Turkey, after winning first place in Israel’s very first Dragon Boat Festival. We raced in Turkey as the very first female crew, not to mention as breast cancer survivors, as well. Our tiller, Maria Egner, from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, was the first woman to tiller in Turkey!!! They put a male steersperson in the back of the boat, and a male interpreter just in case she ran into trouble. For the crew, it just meant that we carried two extra people who were not paddling. The comments from the men were sure flying, but it didn’t matter because we couldn’t understand anyway. We just smiled and agreed and carried on. However, by the third race they let Maria steer by herself!
We can empathize with foreign teams who attend BCS festivals in English speaking countries, as we almost missed several races because we did not speak Turkish.
The insight of Tanya and Hakan, the Festival organizers in Turkey was amazing. The support they gave us was incredible. They supplied 1,000 carnations for the ceremony. Other teams’ crew members were instrumental in helping us sell some of them to raise money for breast cancer in Turkey. The crowds and teams cheered us on!
One of the festival organizers, Hakan, was able to do some educational breast cancer TV segments with the support of medical professionals. A spectator in the crowd saw the BCS ceremony and was so touched that he helped start the first BCS team in Istanbul. The city of Istanbul and the University there have given support to the newly formed breast cancer team. The team in Istanbul is called Pink Lotus, and in one short year they had started two teams. The second team is in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. That team’s name is “Young Amazons”. We were presented with the best community message trophy in Turkey and given medals as well. It is very hard to describe the kindness and support we have received around the world.
The International Pink Sisters have truly become an International team where women from many different countries paddle together. In May, 2013, the crew raced in Florence and Venice. Crew members were from Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, America, and Canada. It is amazing to see all these different women work together to get the crews to different countries to raise breast cancer awareness, and have fun!!
The crew raced in Puerto Rico to raise breast cancer awareness in February, 2014, along with the crew SOS from Florida. Pink Sisters requested that the festival organizers arrange a Carnation Ceremony. People from the community lined the pathway to the boats waving carnations. Women thanked us for showing them that life is good after breast cancer. The Mayor of Ponce got in a dragon boat to participate in their first breast cancer carnation ceremony. The Festival organizers were amazed with the support they felt from the medical community, and the donor for all the carnations. The saying at the airport is so true, One arrives in Puerto Rico as a guest, and leaves as a friend. In 2016 Puerto Rico did adopt the Breast Cancer Carnation Ceremony into their Festival. The Mayor gave recognition to the International Pink Sisters for supporting them to to help promote breast cancer awareness for the women in Puerto Rico.
In 2017, it was so exciting for the crew to support the small festival in San Pedro de Pinatar, in Spain. Spain has two BCS crews. One is a very small northern crew. It was amazing to support, encourage, and offer hope to their young crew members.
The International Pink Sisters prepared, in 2018, to head to Limassol, Cyprus, to raise breast cancer awareness. Our mission and hope for 2018 was to support women in Cyprus so they would start their own BCS team. Our team was comprised of women from America, Canada, Germany, and Austria.
I felt very honored to be a part of the International Pink Sisters Limassol crew. The crew consisted of women from Cyprus, Germany, Austria, USA and Canada. Our April 2018 adventure took us to the island of Cyprus. I was so excited to be able to help spread Breast Cancer Awareness there.
In Cyprus we were welcomed with open arms. So many questions came up from the Cyprus survivors’ organizers, and public. Europa Donna women were so excited to see us. They were eager to get into a boat and try paddling. For some it was their first time in a dragon boat. At the races our team was the one talked about. We were the women of courage. We travelled half way around the world to help other Breast Cancer Survivors. While on the water we showed strength and power keeping up with the other teams.
The entire Cyprus trip was amazing; the island is very beautiful with a rich history and culture, but the highlight for me was meeting local Cypriot breast cancer survivors and introducing the joy and benefits of paddling to them. There were so many special moments such as being welcomed with open arms at Europa Donna house in Limassol by Evi Papadopoulos, President of Europa Donna Cyprus with her lovely group of ladies. Here we shared our stories and even shed some tears, but they were tears of joy for having overcome obstacles in our breast cancer journey. There were many memorable moments of these Cypriot breast cancer survivors paddling with us for the first time ever, in a practice, and then on festival day in the races. We were so happy to share the awesome experience of paddling and racing with these incredible ladies and the look of delight on their faces as they finished a race was priceless. Another very special moment was the pink carnation ceremony -which also had not been seen before by the participating teams from Cyprus, UK, and Iran. This brought a sentiment of emotion to the event. Together with the Cypriot ladies we made history as the first BCS team paddling in Cyprus in their 10th International Dragon Boat Festival.
I'm so happy and proud to have played a part in making BCS paddling history in Cyprus.
Many thanks to International Pink Sisters, Evi, Kathy, one of the festival organizers and the many willing volunteers who helped make this possible
I have been a member of the Raging Mouflons for approximately a year now and for the past six months, we have been attempting to establish the Pink Mouflons team which will be comprised of 6 breast cancer survivors. When I heard that the International Pink Sisters Dragon boat team will be visiting Cyprus to attend the 10th International Dragon Boat festival, held on the 21st of April 2018, I was extremely excited. I met the team on the 19th of April when I visited the Yermasoyia dam to train with them. All of International Pink Sisters teammates were eager to meet me and embrace me. It was an amazing experience. It was as if we had known each other for years. The day of the race was a fantastic experience. I participated in the race with the Pink Sisters. What moved me the most was when we threw our carnations into the river while the song, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor was playing in the background. It was truly an unforgettable experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Through dragon boating, I met some amazing women who are true breast cancer survivors.
When we introduced the pink flower ceremony; everyone was awe struck. Once again, my heart cried, tears poured out of me when we exited our boats. You see everyone, and I mean everyone there formed a paddle arch for us to walk through. I think we accomplished what we went there to do. Europa Donna Cyprus, you rock! Our sendoff dinner was fantastic. Many friendships were made. You will be in my heart forever. Evi did a closing circle for us. We held hands, she said in one hand palm down -you give and the other hand palm up -you receive. The entire trip felt like everyone gave something and we all received so much from each other.
With great sadness Evi Papadopoulos, President of Europa Donna Cyprus passed away in the Spring of 2019. Evi was a pioneer advocating for breast cancer treatments, and breast cancer awareness throughout Europe.
We are all truly blessed to have met the Cypriot festival organizers, Pink Moulins, volunteers from Europa Donna and Evi. Thank you for a truly memorable experience. When Together we paddle-Together we have hope-Together we have courage- so, Together, we survive.!-
Authors: Louise Canada, Maria Cyprus, Nancy USA and Mary Canada.
The crew participated in the festival in Amsterdam to raise breast cancer awareness on Sept 7, 2019.
Information on Donna Europa see their web site.
EUROPA DONNA - The European Breast Cancer Coalition is an independent non-profit organization whose members are affiliated groups from countries throughout Europe. The Coalition works to raise awareness of breast cancer and to mobilize the support of European women in pressing for improved breast cancer education, appropriate screening, optimal treatment and increased funding for research. EUROPA DONNA represents the interests of European women regarding breast cancer to local and national authorities as well as to institutions of the European Union.
Each European country has their national representative and the Head Office contact is in Milan:
I joined the Dragon Boar sport in the year 2000 and really enjoyed being out on the water, and the team camaraderie. In 2003 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my team mates encouraged me to stay with the sport. I joined the International Pink Sisters in 2008 on their Tour to Venice, and instantly felt like a true sister to these women. We all shared a common bond, that we had beat breast cancer, and I felt the courage, hope, and strength of these women.
The race in Venice was called the Volgalonga, and I was thoroughly amazed at the response we got from the public. We had crowds of people cheering us on, all along the canals for a total of 25 kilometers. What a thrill it was to finish that race. It made me realize what a great way this was to spread breast cancer awareness.
The International Pink Sisters have paddled in Singapore, Venice, Switzerland, the Philippines, Spain, Portugal, Israel, Turkey, and Cyprus. Every year new friends are made as we travel through different countries.
In the Philippines we raced in the festival on the beautiful island of Boracay. We welcomed three women from Manila to join our team. These women turned out to be true advocates of our cause to bring awareness. This was another event where we were cheered on by the whole beach crowd. We were met by radio and television crews to do interviews, and we even had lunch with the Senator, who, in turn, was trying to bring early detection and financial aid to the forefront. We truly felt the need to help the women by bringing awareness as we heard quite a few sad stories of breast cancer there.
Dragon Boat racing has really broadened my life, as I would never have travelled to these countries alone. I have met truly wonderful people along the way and feel I have enriched my life. Truly there is life after breast cancer!
HAZEL, International Pink Sisters
This quilt was made for the team by a colleague of Mary’s. Her mother made it before she died. She had breast and ovarian cancer. The family of one of my previous clients was going to take it to South Africa, to Michelle Rennie, who hoped to raise funds to help support breast cancer programming for women which is offered at the local hospital. Michelle still volunteers for this program. Thank you, Michelle. Doris believed in us and the awareness we do. She would be happy the quilt funding is going to help other women with breast cancer.
Doris Drennan (pictured here) is the quilter who made this beautiful quilt.