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Posted On: 21 October 2020 03:00 pm
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:08 pm

Qommunity Voices: How are the Doha Wireless Warriors putting the CAN in Cancer?

Vrinda Abilash
Vrinda Abilash
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The human spirit is stronger than any challenge it faces and the group that is proving this very quote right time and again are the Doha Wireless Warriors. They are a community of cancer survivors and supporters who like to have fun and how! They have taken up dragon boating to prove that motivation and teamwork can help you achieve anything that you want in life and overcome obstacles.

ILQ got in touch with to Sandee Thompson, the founder of the Doha Wireless Warriors, who herself is a cancer survivor. She and her constant team of 80 strong members are an inspiration to all of us. Let's get to know all about them and what they do!

ILQ: Who are The Doha Wireless Warriors and what does the team do?

Sandee: The Doha Wireless Warriors is a diverse group of cancer survivors and supporters who are trying to build awareness that there is life during and after a cancer diagnosis and that there is a community of survivors and supporters available to provide support, all while exercising in a dragon boat. We paddle as many as 8 times per week to build our own strength and foster a positive community, speak to any group that asks us to help build awareness in Qatar, and provide support for any cancer survivors who come our way.

ILQ: When did Doha Wireless Warriors start and what is the vision?

Sandee: I started the Doha Wireless Warriors on November 14, 2014, six weeks after my breast cancer recurrence and bilateral mastectomy. I was already a coach and paddler with the Doha Dragons (Qatar’s first dragon boat team which started in October 2013) but had had trouble finding other cancer survivors to start a cancer team. It took a second cancer diagnosis to get the team up and running. It was my salvation to be honest.

My goal was to provide an opportunity for breast cancer survivors to get physically and emotionally strong after, or while, recovering from breast cancer treatment. I had been a part of a BC dragon boat team in Canada following my first cancer diagnosis and it got me through a rough number of months….I wanted to share that experience with the community here in Qatar.

Dragon boating has been in existence for hundreds of years but has become a popular sport and activity with breast cancer survivors because the action of paddling is a pumping action, which moves the lymph system. After you have had lymph nodes removed with cancer surgery, you run the risk of getting Lymphodema (swelling of the arm that the lymph nodes have been removed from) so dragon boating really helps keep that possibility at bay.

Image Credit: Doha Wireless Warriors

ILQ: What inspires you to do what you do?

Sandee: What inspires me? Seeing people go from depressed and distressed about a cancer diagnosis to invigorated, strong and emotionally healthier. That and knowing that there is now a community available to support those who come after us, as there surely will be. Dragon boating got me through two cancer diagnosis’. I want to spread the joy.

ILQ: Why dragon boating?

Sandee: Dragon boating is a team sport and requires everyone to paddle in harmony in order to make the boat move. That harmony is reflected in the peace the group feels while they paddle and in how it resonates with them afterwards when they are having a difficult time.

Plus, I am a water baby. For my entire life, whenever I have felt distressed, I have gone and sat by a body of water...bathtub, river, lake, ocean or sea…it doesn’t matter as long as it is water. Paddling in a dragon boat when you live in a desert is even more special!

Image Credit: Doha Wireless Warriors

ILQ: How many members does the Doha Wireless Warriors currently have?

Sandee: Our numbers constantly fluctuate though we typically have about 60-80 regular members at any one time. In August we had 7 new members a day contact me to try the sport. Now, I receive 2-4 calls a day. Many people try it once or twice and that is enough for them to say they have had the experience. Others try it one time and they are hooked for life. Those are the people who ask to become coaches and steers and who become an integral member of the team. We could not offer the number of sessions we do were it not for the volunteers who help coach, steer, order materials, and organize our practice times.

ILQ: How often does the team meet and what does the activity entail?

Sandee: At the moment, we meet a couple of weekday mornings and afternoons each week and 4 times on the weekend. We have times set aside for cancer survivors (Friday mornings at 6:20), women only, new paddlers, mixed level and experienced only.

We meet at the beach about 30 minutes prior to paddling to prepare the boat, warm up and get our equipment ready (life jacket on and find the correct size paddle for your height). We paddle for 30 minutes, stop for a couple of minutes to remember to be grateful and remember those who cannot be in the boat with us because of cancer treatment and then we switch sides and paddle on the other side. I firmly believe in balance, both in life and in our physical selves, so we paddle on both sides of the boat. After another 30 minutes of paddling, we return to the beach, clean the boat and our equipment, have a quick cool down and sat our farewells. The whole thing takes about 2 hours.

Image Credit: Doha Wireless Warriors

ILQ: What are some of the biggest achievements and challenges faced by Doha Wireless Warriors?

Sandee: Our biggest achievement is getting a boat full of cancer survivors in for a weekly paddle and the fact that we now have a thriving survivor community. We celebrate our 6th anniversary as a team this coming November and our first year with a Survivors Only boat on November 14th.

ILQ: Do they have to undergo prior training in order to race?

Sandee: 95% of people who come to us for the first time have never paddled in a dragon boat. We give instruction on the beach prior to setting out. We give safety instructions every time we paddle and identify any non-swimmers and nominate a person to watch over them.

If we are racing, and we have raced internationally one time in Georgia, we have to spend months preparing and building stamina, strength and speed. We never really expect to win because our team has many family and work obligations, making it difficult to commit to the training that is required to win a dragon boat race, but we feel we have already won just be surviving cancer and being able to paddle in a dragon boat!

Image Credit: Doha Wireless Warriors

ILQ: How can one join the group, here in Qatar?

Sandee: All anyone has to do is contact me and I will send them all the information they need. One thing I should add here is that they must be 18+.

    ILQ: What message do you have for the people of Qatar?

    Sandee: Live your life as largely as possible. Really…you never know when your life is going to change unexpectedly so take every opportunity to try new things. When things out of your control happen, try to find the gift within the event and move with it. No one wants a cancer diagnosis for themselves or their loved ones. But if it comes to your door, get as much information about it as you can, reach out for some support and keep walking forward.

    ILQ: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

    Sandee: Cancer does not have to be a death sentence nowadays. Prevention is extremely important in the fight against cancer so find a sport or activity you like to do, eat well and laugh as much as possible! Oh..and get your daily dose of hugs in there too! Positive energy breeds positive energy so fill your life with positive people, joyful activities and you will get through it.

    ILQ: How can one get in touch with you?

    October is breast cancer awareness month and we encourage our audience to get themselves tested and be aware of the symptoms of not only breast cancer but all other types of cancers too. To lend our support, we have also added a pink ribbon to our logo! Do check it out!