Last weekend, during National Cancer Awareness Month, the Lele Manu Kaiko‘o (Flying Bird that Supports You) was among a trio of Hawaiian outrigger canoes that slid gently into the ocean at around 5 a.m. at Canoe Beach in Lahaina, their crews determined to land at Manele Bay, Lāna‘i, that afternoon. They would be completing their historic roundtrip voyage the following day, paddling home to a warm, emotional Maui welcome.
This daring pod of 25 sturdy women, some in their 20s and 30s, many in their 40s and 50s, and one in her mid-70s, included both experienced and relatively new paddlers. All of them were focused on the same goal: to accomplish the extraordinary feat of safely and joyfully paddling to the island of Lana’i and back via Hawaiian outrigger canoe in order to affirm, in their own gutsy way, that there is life after cancer!
These spirited women—cancer survivors, oncology healthcare professionals, and friends and family who passionately support the cause—are still very much “in the pink,” and wear that color to show it!
(Left to right) Amy Hill and Janelle Todd paddled with a group of 23 women to support the eradication of cancer.
Some of them began paddling in 2006 as part of Pacific Cancer Foundation’s Mana‘olana (hope) program. Since then, they have melded into a water-borne support group for one another. They’ve also been an inspiration to women still in treatment. And with saddened hearts, they’ve also been paddling to honor some who are no longer living.
Norma Clothier, a veteran of many channel crossings, paddled on this journey of hope in honor of longtime Kīhei Canoe Club paddler Joan Cannon, who died of cancer two years ago. “Joanie represented everything that’s great about paddling,” said Clothier. “It is a huge honor for me to represent her, to affirm that her spirit is still with us!”
Paddle for Hope coordinator Kimokeo Kapahulehua has had major health challenges himself. Hospitalized last year after a sudden illness that left him in a coma, he rallied to regain his strength. He has emerged with renewed vigor and fierce determination to serve others in a pono way.
Pink Paddlers Head Coach Ellen Fereroff survived a serious motorcycle accident several years ago. Now back on her feet, she has become unstoppable. Her vision has grown. “Coaching these amazing women who have strength of character, passion and perseverance has been an incredible experience for me,” said Fereroff. “By sponsoring the Mana‘olana paddling program, the Pacific Cancer Foundation has been integral in helping them thrive—and “give back” to the community.
Maui Canoe Club (MCC), a relative newcomer to the pantheon of island canoe clubs and uniquely dedicated to “paddling for the fun of it,” actively supports the Mana‘olana program. Rather than investing in competitive teams for the regatta season, MCC has directed its “extracurricular” energy to causes such as this, in which paddling can play a key role in optimal wellness—even for those with major health challenges who might otherwise have never considered the sport.
Longtime paddler Adele Rugg is a 22-year breast cancer survivor who feels immensely grateful to be part of this “awesome” Mana‘olana team. “We’re paddling in support of all those ladies who have had breast cancer and we’re letting them know that there is life after breast cancer!” she said. “As we reach our paddles into the water to take each stroke, we know that there is yet another lady on the planet who has been diagnosed. We paddle with the hope that in our lifetimes, we can find a cure for the disease.”
Hospice Maui Medical Director Dr. Nancy Long is also part of the crew. Nancy’s sister, diagnosed with breast cancer last November, has just completed surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. “As a hospice and palliative medicine physician, I am caring for cancer patients every day,” she said. “I am always inspired by their courage, strength and determination. Paddling with this group of women helps me connect with the experiences of cancer survivors in a way that feels very real to me. I am paddling for all whose lives are touched by cancer.”
Kapahulehua saw this year’s paddle around Lana‘i as the seed voyage in a much grander vision. “In 2010, we’ll have two dozen canoes—from all the Maui clubs and including participants from Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i. This is Maui Nei culture rising up to support the eradication of breast cancer.”