Cancer survivors find support, peace in dragon boat group

For The Sun NewsMay 10, 2014 

The men and women who paddle the Dragon Boat at the Beach don’t always win the gold when they race, but all of them are winners.

Individually, they have survived many kinds of cancer. Together, they are enjoying life and being cancer-free.

“The boat is just a magical, magical thing that we all get to share in,” said Beans Kelly of Litchfield, who coaches the paddlers.

“It really gives you that unspoken spiritual, emotional and physical support, as well as well-being. It’s a pretty magical sensation,” said Kelly, a skin cancer survivor who first joined the group as a paddler.

Her sports background includes being head women’s golf coach at the University of Georgia, and she was a 2000 inductee into the National Golf Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.

“She has done amazing things with this group of people,” said Linda Michenon of Murrells Inlet, who is 10 years cancer-free after two bouts with breast cancer.

There are close to 100 paddlers who paddle the 40-foot boat in teams of 20 several times each week. They paddle from the Reserve Marina into the Intracoastal Waterway, and up and down the Waccamaw River.

“It’s so quiet, so peaceful, so gorgeous,” said Michenon.

The group is unique because everyone has already gone through treatment, Michenon said, and she feels that is a time when something like that is really needed.

“You’re just so happy and blessed just to be able to be on the boat,” she said. “It’s almost not like a wellness group, but it is.”

Michenon said it is very important to have family or others to support you when you are battling cancer, and she credits her husband, J.P. Michenon, and her sister, Diane Thompson, with helping her survive and then supporting the Dragon Boat.

But some cancer patients do not have family in the area to support them, she said.

“People who don’t have families here or have families coming – we are their family,” said Joan Lynch of Pawleys Island, a 20-year breast cancer survivor.

Joan is the wife of Tom Lynch, a skin cancer survivor who is president of the Dragon Boat at the Beach.

“I’m 82 and I still paddle,” he said.

The Dragon Boat started in 2007 as a wellness program of the Georgetown Hospital System, but the system discontinued it earlier this year.

When Tom was elected president in January, he did not know that he and other participants would have to work to acquire nonprofit status and insurance, and everything that would allow the program to continue independently, but they have done it.

The group has some parties and fundraisers, accepts and appreciates donations and corporate sponsors. In March, they received a $1,400 donation from the Murrells Inlet Elks Lodge.

Tom and other members say they are very fortunate to have the support of The Reserve Marina in Pawleys Island, which allows the boat to stay there.

The group is not just into paddling on the Waccamaw, they are into Dragon Boat racing, a sport growing in popularity in the county. They enter about four races annually, and are planning to race in Marathon Key, Fla., on May 17.

“I live to paddle and race,” Michenon said.

While they usually don’t spend their time on the water thinking or talking about cancer, they are always aware of the chance that it can return, Michenon said, and if that happens, they are there for each other.

They come from different professions, live in different kinds of homes and drive different kinds of cars, but when they are together, they are all the same, Kelly said.

“It’s a very eclectic group. To be involved in a group like this, it’s the best of all worlds,” Michenon said.

“We kind of don’t dwell on having cancer and the bad things that can happen when we’re on the boat, but we’re all there for each other,” Joan said. “It’s so wonderful paddling on the river. The river is a beautiful place. You see all kinds of wildlife.”

Each time the boat goes out, they stop at a certain spot on the water and have a moment of prayer for people who need prayer, including their members, friends, family members, and people impacted by tragedies and national disasters around the world.

“And then we paddle for them,” Michenon said.

For more information, visit www.dragonboatatthebeach.com or call Kelly at 251-3491 or Lynch at 979-0964.

Reach PEGGY MISHOE at pegmish@sccoast.net.

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