by Louise Doyle
A DONEGAL woman who survived breast cancer has set up a unique rowing club in a bid to help others faced with or overcoming the same trauma.
Deborah Bonner, from Donegal Town, established Donegal’s first Dragon Boat Club – ‘Donegal Dragons’ – for breast cancer survivors and supporters last year, and it has since been going from strength to strength with 14 members and 30 supporters forging great friendships while keeping fit and helping to raise crucial awareness of the disease.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Mrs Bonner recalled being diagnosed with breast cancer, and said that after going through treatment and recovery for two years, she hit an ‘emotional wall’ and knew she had to be the change for others in the same situation.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago when I was 40. The diagnosis came as a shock because I was very fit and healthy, but I found a lump in my breast and I just knew that it was cancer. I didn’t go to my GP, instead I went to the Breast Clinic in Letterkenny. I knew my risk would have been low as I had a healthy lifestyle; while I act chocolate I still did my workouts and I have never smoked. However, an ultra sound was carried out and I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few days later.
“It took the next two years to recover. Before my diagnosis I was always a very positive person, but what I found was that the emotional side of what had happened to me took it out of me more than the physical or treatment, chemotherapy and medication afterwards.
“I got through it all reasonably well but I did have an emotional, mental blackout, and I found that very scary, however, I found out that everyone who has had cancer hits the wall at some stage.”
Continuing, the mother-of two said it was a chance attendance at a Relay for Life conference – addressed by former Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness – that she learned about cancer survivors in Dublin and other parts of the country who had formed Dragon Boat clubs.
“I had a rowing background and I thought to give it a go as I had nothing to lose. So, every second Saturday I would get the 5am bus during the summer and go down to the Grand Canal Dock and paddle with these other women and get the 1.30pm bus home. I was lucky enough to get on to the Irish group who went to compete in Florida. There were 4,000 survivors all rowing dragon boats and having the craic. It may the world seem like a really small place.
“However, I have two sons and a husband so I thought there must be an easier way and so I decided to start up my own club. Donegal Dragons was formed over a year ago. I can’t praise enough our local rowing club and local businesses who have been fantastic with their support and unofficial sponsorship.”
Mrs Bonner revealed the club has two rowing boats, each 45-foot- long, which were acquired through the kindness of others.
“I met a man at a regatta event in Dublin and we got chatting. He had a Dragon Boat on the Thames and he said that if he were ever changing his boat he would give us his boat. The next thing was I had that boat delivered from Dublin for free.
“The other boat came from fundraising carried out on behalf of a lady from Killybegs who had died. Her family had raised money for the Oncology unit at Letterkenny Hospital and when her son asked the nurse there what he could do with the rest of the money raised, she kindly put him in touch with us. He actually bought us a brand new dragon boat all the way from China.”
A special Paddleathon will take place tomorrow from 9.30am to 7pm to help raise funds for the Club and Mrs Bonner has called on as many people as possible to come out and support the event.
“We’re based down at the pier in Donegal Town. The big plan is to get a clubhouse at the pier. We also need a safety boat because we can’t go out of the bay without one and to date, we’ve been relying on someone with a safety boat every time we have gone out on the water.
“The Paddleathon will be the start of our fundraising. We’re not an official charity yet but we will have sponsorship cards which people can sponsor us. It will be €2 a line. The event will take place from 9.30am to 7pm and we hope to promote the club as well as to raise awareness of breast cancer.”
Mrs Bonner thanked her husband, Donal and sons, John and Brian, for their support.
For more information see Donegal Dragons on Facebook.