HOMER, Ill. (WCIA) — On Friday, October 13, WCIA is going pink for breast cancer awareness and sharing stories from doctors, researchers and survivors. Some of those people are a part of Prairie Dragon Paddlers, a team of people who all have or had breast cancer.
Members feel joining the group was a blessing and something that changed their lives. Through the team, they’ve been able to meet people who understand the journey better than anyone. That’s because they’ve all been in each other’s shoes.
When Donna Campbell was 52, she got a breast cancer diagnosis. That was only eight months after undergoing a kidney transplant.
“That was a mindblower,” Campbell said.
The Clinton woman had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) contained inside of the milk duct. The National Library of Medicine said this type of breast cancer accounts for 20-25% of diagnosis’s.
“The best path was what they call a lumpectomy where they go in and remove it or a partial mastectomy and then we did that and I had it followed up with 34 sessions of radiation,” Campbell described.
For five years, she was undergoing mammograms every six months. But, Campbell feels the timing was a blessing, and couldn’t have been better.
“I say that because if I would’ve gotten the diagnosis before my transplant, I would not have been able to do the transplant,” she said.
Campbell eventually connected with the Prairie Dragon Paddlers. It’s a team that has experienced breast cancer in different ways. Campbell said she didn’t know what she was missing until joining.
“When you get on that boat and you get on the lake, there’s just this calmness that comes over you,” she said.
Throughout the spring and summer, the team practices at Homer Lake and competes near and far. That’s how Campbell met Stephanie Harpst.
“My doctor asked me about a lump that she had found in my left breast,” Harpst described.
It ended up being breast cancer. The Champaign woman went through seven surgeries and many rounds of chemo over two years but now has been a survivor for 17 years and counting.
“I had to now focus on myself and my healing,” she said.
The two of them are leaning on paddling to keep them connected to others with similar experiences.
“You know everyone in that boat has heard those four words. And it’s not four words you ever want to hear,” Campbell said.
But, they’re the words that have created bonds and friendships to last a lifetime.
“It makes you feel wanted. Just a lot of admiration for each other,” Harpst said.
The team has competed around the world, including New Zealand last spring. They also raise money for breast cancer research at the Cancer Center at Illinois on the U of I campus.