15 years ago, amaBele Belles presented the first dragon boat racing team in Africa, powered by cancer survivors. The sport has a direct impact on recovery, as the paddling required reduces swelling in the arms that certain cancer treatments can cause.
Led by Merlin Osborne, the dragon boating team is made up of 20 women who move with speed across the water. With individual paddles, they propel the narrow canoe forward. Osborne and her team have all been affected in some way or another by breast cancer.“We’re all in the same boat and we’re fighting together,” she said.
In 2007, Osborne found a lump in her underarm. Despite her family’s history with cancer, she waited more than a month to get it checked.When her fears were confirmed, Osborne spent four days in her room trying to figure out what to do. “The first thought that I had in mind was death,” she says.
Then, Osborne realised that she was more than the diagnosis. “I decided cancer wasn’t going to define who I am,” she said. Osborne started chemotherapy to shrink the lump and later had a mastectomy to remove the affected breast. For five years, she was on medication that caused depression. Throughout the ordeal, Osborne approached her illness with positivity, joking about her lopsidedness and showing people her scar.
Even then, there were times when she needed others to keep her going. “I really felt lonely,” Osborne says. In search of support and a healthy distraction, Osborne joined dragon boating. Her team acts as a support group, providing guidance and comfort.“I’ve never been showered with so much love,” said Osborne.
Through dragon boating, Osborne wants to show that a cancer diagnosis is not the end. For her, it was the beginning of a journey filled with purpose and hope.