Nary a ripple marred the surface of Salmon Lake on a warm September evening.
This was a couple of Tuesdays ago, after the Labor Day rush, and the only sound was from passing cars and trucks out on Highway 83.
Suddenly, from around the point to the south, a lone, long canoe of some sort appeared.
Ten paddles on either side, manned by 20 paddlers, dug in inspiring unison, dug again and again.
"1-2-3-4-5-6-7 and faster," the woman standing in the back called.
"Reach-reach-reach," Nan Condit urged. "Your pain isn't special, ladies."
And it wasn't. Dragon boat racing isn't supposed to tickle. Neither is cancer.
It was the last training night of a summer of 45-minute drives from Missoula to Salmon for the Silver Lining dragon boat racing team, Montana’s first official breast cancer survival team.
Come the weekend they'd be in Bigfork, competing in the Montana Dragon Boat Festival on an inlet of Flathead Lake. There they would cap their second season of pain, triumph and empowerment with a silver medal, the team’s first in its short. " It was a great weekend,” Condit said.
There’s a difference between thriving and surviving. It’s on Patti Craveiro’s mind every day.
At 71, Craveiro is Silver Lining’s oldest paddler and perhaps its most appreciative. She was 61 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer; 69 when the physician in Bend, Oregon, delivered the dreaded words a second time.
This time it was multiple myeloma, bone marrow cancer for which there’s no cure. But it’s treatable, Craveiro is quick to point out. After undergoing a stem cell transplant in Portland in March 2018, she moved to Missoula to be near her daughter. She discovered Silver Lining through another cancer thriver and unlikely dragon boat paddler. Craveiro calls Tima Jones Erickson her “Montana bestie.”
They were on a boat in Bigfork last weekend that included at least three women in the throes of chemotherapy, radiation or reconstructive surgery. Two paddled with the discomfort of recent mastectomies. Another was wearing a compression stocking on her arm to reduce the swelling of lymphedema.
“We paddle with the hope that circulation will help bring that fluid out,” Craveiro said. “But we’re alive. We call ourselves the ‘lovely livers.’ We are the living ones, and we’re really grateful.
“I feel like I’m striving to thrive with cancer, not just surviving.”
Meet Patti C, aka "P Dawg". She is 71 years young, diagnosed at age 61 with breast cancer and went through the typical treatment. Eight years later, in Nov of 2017, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and underwent a stem cell transplant, a procedure which some patients don't survive. Lucky for us, she survived.
P Dawg found Silver Lining two years ago and we are far better off with her shining light as part of our group. She's lived life large; skiing, running,scuba diving, hiking, being a mom and grandmother and loving every moment that life has to offer. Even with shoulders that creak and a body that's been subjected to some brutal medical intervention, you can still find her in the pool and paddling in the dragon boat with us. She believes that EXERCISE IS MEDICINE. She defines tenacity, optimism and grace.
PDawg says "Silver Lining Foundation is a Godsend in my life and is helping me to refocus my body-mind-soul energy to heal! Synchronicity is what it's about--on so many levels"........We love our Dawg!
By Skylar Rispens
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
SEELEY LAKE - Nearly seven years after Seeley Lake resident Gayle Gordon was diagnosed with breast cancer she has found a sisterhood to help her navigate survivorship.
Gordon first heard about the group of women through a friend and fellow breast cancer survivor in Missoula, Mont. Gordon's friend Stacey Vetter encouraged her to become involved in the Silver Lining Foundation.
"I have found a lot of people who aren't just down in the dumps. They are positive, they are supportive, they are so full of love," said Gordon. "I love these chicks, they are so fun to be around."
The Silver Lining Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit that was founded in 2015 by five women who met in chemotherapy for breast cancer treatment. The group is aimed at providing support for women in the Missoula area and Western Montana that have been afflicted by breast cancer.
"We never planned this [foundation] to happen," said Nancy Condit, Silver Lining Foundation president. "The universe just sort of handed us this message [of survivorship], and it's just our way of giving back to the other girls. We all understand the necessity for survivorship tools and nobody understands that best unless you've already been through it."
Since 2015, the group has blossomed to provide a wide variety of options to build a support system for survivors. According to its website, the group is home to nearly 180 members. The Silver Lining Foundation offers members a variety of activities such as monthly gatherings with educational speakers and weekly hikes. The foundation also offers a morning coffee hour twice a month as well as weekly dragon boat practices on Salmon Lake throughout the summer.
Gordon attended her first event last spring and wasn't sure how often she could attend the group's events because the Silver Lining Foundation is rooted in Missoula. Now, she jumps on any opportunity to support them. She volunteers at fundraisers and tries to attend as many presentations as she can. She even travelled to Flathead Lake to cheer on the dragon boat team at a competition last summer. This summer she hopes to try her hand at dragon boating.
"In order to heal from this situation, you need to get out there and you need to stay active," said Gordon. "I had already pretty much put [breast cancer] in my past, but it's nice to become active in something you believe in and see a purpose in."