It is hard to put into words my experience at the 2018 IBCPC Participatory Dragon Boat Festival that was held in Florence from 6-8 July. For me going to Florence was a sort of homecoming and the festival was not only a celebration of life but was also closure for a journey that started 25 years ago with the loss of my mother to breast cancer.
Taking part in the flower ceremony was probably one of the most powerful events I have ever participated in. The emotions while sitting on the river Arno in a dragon boat along with 17 other boats filled with survivors like me, participating in a moment of silence to reflect on our lives and those of our friends/family who didn’t make it cannot be replicated. During this moment I realized that I was meant to be there.
I studied in Florence after my mother’s death and that experience led me back to Italy where I met my husband and fell in love. Two children and 25 years later I was back in the same town that had changed my life, but this time as a breast cancer survivor. Seeing the banks of the Arno dotted in pink and knowing that over 4000 women from 18 different countries were also there in the same boat as me was very comforting and cathartic at the same time. The openness and kindness of the other paddlers was amazing. It was almost as if we had known each other for a long time. Perhaps we didn’t, but we have all shared the same experience and can immediately understand each other from the first words exchanged. Not only did I make new friends from afar, but the weekend also brought me closer to my teammates and proved that we really are all in the same boat!
Flower ceremony song was Enya May it be