The following is an abridged version of Bosom Buddies Chronicle of the Early History (2003), by Sharon Driscoll, edited by Marylin Hergett (2011).

To tell the story of how Bosom Buddies of NS came to be, it is important to start at the very beginning of dragon boating for breast cancer survivors in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Abreast in a Boat was the first Canadian breast cancer survivor dragon boat paddling team (in British Columbia) and the inspired idea of Dr Don MacKenzie, and Researchers Sherri Nirsen and Diana Jespersen. Dr MacKenize knew that dragon boating would be the perfect challenge for lymphodema, a painful, incurable swelling condition that sometimes occurred in women who had undergone breast cancer surgery. The current medical advice was untested and devastating to a woman’s physical rehabilitation and quality of life.

In 1997 Sharon Driscoll, a breast cancer survivor, was living in British Columbia and a member of the second team of Abreast in a Boat for a few months before she moved to Nova Scotia.

In 1997 Margo Kleiker was living in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, a former social worker, who trained as a naturopathic doctor and a breast cancer survivor. She had an idea of women gathering together to promote physical wellness in an environment of mutual support available to herself and others.

In the spring of 1998 Margo Kleiker was diagnosed for the second time with breast cancer and while undergoing treatment read a number of articles about Abreast in a Boat. Sharon Driscoll had moved to Mahone Bay, NS and they met in the summer of 1998 and talked about the possibility of a dragon boat team in Nova Scotia.

Sharon Driscoll followed up a Chronicle Herald article about the Maritime Tel and Tel Dragon Boat Festival on Lake Banook published on September 4, 1998. Eventually through this article she got into contact with Peggy Hirtle of MTT Mobility. Peggy was from the South Shore and had a family history of breast cancer. Contact with Peggy Hirtle led to contact with Mr. Raymond Wong, owner of a dragon boat moored on Lake Banook, who agreed to rent the boat to Bosom Buddies

Margo Klieker knew the importance of media in promoting this project. Through contact with the Chronicle Herald and later the Bridgewater Bulletin she arranged for both she and Sharon Driscoll to be interviewed and photographed to announce the formation meeting of Nova Scotia’s first breast cancer survivor dragon boat team.

While Margo Klieker was involved with the media, Sharon Driscoll had been in contact with Jane Frost of Abreast in a Boat regarding the details of setting up an organization. During the next several months, Frost became a long distance mentor for the team. She offered suggestions for sponsorship packages, training manuals for paddlers, and many words of wisdom from her experience with Abreast in a Boat in Vancouver.

On September 26, 1998 the first meeting of Bosom Buddies was held in a basement room at the Oak Island Inn, Western Shore, NS. Anne Matthiasson from Mahone Bay and Marie Ann Keddy and Linda Durling from the Annapolis Valley were part of the group of eight at the meeting. It was at this meeting that the group chose the name Bosom Buddies. The following weekend Sharon Driscoll spoke at a retreat at the Tim Horton’s camp in Tatamagouche and several members of the audience. Dorothy Mullins, Cathy Henderson, Mable Arsenault from Antigonish and Eunice Gaskell, came on board and became part of the development of Bosom Buddies.

The second Bosom Buddies meeting was held on October 31, 1998 at the Second Story Women’s Centre in Bridgewater and already the number of women attending had almost doubled. New members were: Karen Freeman, Mieke Martin, and Janice Bowie.

By this time an invitation was received to go to the first Canadian Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Championships & Workshops at the Vancouver 1999 Alcan Dragon Boat Festival. The group had not secured any sponsorship to support such a venture but made an enthusiastic decision to “go for it”. From the beginning, Margo Kleiker and Sharon Driscoll felt Bosom Buddies had an energy of its own, and by the end of the second meeting the ground swell was palpable.

On December 5, 1998, the third meeting was held once again in Bridgewater at the Second Story Women’s Centre. Andrea Harrold, Carol Bond and Carol Wood-Crossman were among new members that day. This was the meeting where the group chose royal blue as the team colour to fit with Nova Scotia tartan.

At this meeting it was learned that women from New Glasgow would be forming their own team, and that forced the question “whom does this team represent?” The group had enough provincial representation to be called a provincial team (with members from Bridgewater, Mahone Bay, Blandford, Hubbards, Halifax, Dartmouth, Fall River, Stewiacke, Jeddore, Greenwood and Antigonish.) and so it became Bosom Buddies of Nova Scotia. Janice Bowie arranged with the MicMac Boating Club in Dartmouth and they were willing fro the team to meet in their clubhouse without charge for the January 1999 meeting.

Janice Bowie had also been doing some groundwork to find a coach. Her enquiries led to Colin Brien, who was a member of the Canadian National Canoe Team. For Colin, this would be his first experience as a coach.

Sponsorship was becoming a clear necessity. MTT Mobility was contacted again, this time with a formal budget in place and a request for funding to support the Vancouver trip. At this point MTT Mobility was in the middle of a merger with MTT.

On January 13, 1999 Sharon Driscoll and Janice Bowie meet with MTT. MTT could not offer money for sponsorship, however, they were willing to offer team T-shirts and hats and waive the festival fees for the Lake Banook festival. These items were translated into a financial donation of $4,000; $1,000. short of the set minimum $5,000. for the corporate contributions level of sponsorship. MTT offered a free cell phone package with a recognized value of $1,100. If this package could be raffled, it would turn the cell phone into a monetary donation. Adding this cell phone package to the other goods, gave MTT an equivalent contribution of $5,100. in goods, which meant the team could wear their logo.

By the fourth meeting on January 16, 1999, that included members Ginny Luck, Margaret Wright, Dorothy Mullins and Susan Jackson, the team now had twenty members – the magic number to form a team. This was also the first meeting for the team coach Colin Brien.

The first executive of Bosom Buddies of NS was formed at this meeting by volunteers. Sharon Driscoll became the first President, Margo Kleiker the Vice President, Linda Durling was Secretary, Mieke Martin was Treasurer, and Ginny Luck agreed to be Sponsorship Committee Chairperson.

During the previous month, Sharon Driscoll and Janice Bowie had been in contact about a logo for the team. They collaborated on a profile image of two rowers located by Janice Bowie and with the addition of another line as suggested by Sharon Driscoll, there was an image of two dragon boat paddlers, two Bosom Buddies. The team liked the image and it was adopted as the first logo.

Karen Freeman had been in touch with Milton Fancy, a paddle maker on the South Shore, who was willing to make dragon boat paddles for the team. It was Karen Freeman’s brilliant idea that each member could buy their own paddle and use it to raise their own funds to cover the cost of the Vancouver festival. This was done and paddlers asked people to sign their own name on the paddle, or the name of someone they wanted to be remembered for a minimum fee of $10.00. This was a very potent idea for both fund-raising and also for enlisting support and involvement of many people in the team’s new venture.

In keeping with the plan to meeting in various locations, February’s meeting was held at the Greenwood Military Base. New members included Kathe LeJeune and Beth MacGillivray.

By the March, 1999 meeting, Debbie Mosher and Eileen Pease joined the group, and Jean Peters volunteered to begin working on a web site. Carol Wood-Crossman volunteered to coordinate all the details of getting the team to the Vancouver Festival in June. At this meeting, Lee MacDonald, Lucille Webb, Norma Graham and Margaret Cann came for the first time. Even though it was Margaret Cann’s first visit and she was dealing with a recurrence, Margaret volunteered to create a brochure for the team.

The MicMac Boating Club was all ready becoming the unofficial meeting place, and the team was able to use the club’s war canoes to begin the first practice on the water in April. This was convenient as Mr. Wong’s dragon boat was not quite ready to use. The team decided to continue to meet at the Mic Mac Club, at least for the current paddling season. Fortunately, by May, Mr. Wong’s dragon boat was launched and the Bosom Buddies team as finally in a dragon boat with a full crew.

In June 1999 the team flew to Vancouver for the first Canadian Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Championships, which were part of the Alcan Dragon Boat Festival. Abreast in a Boat’s generous hospitality helped bring a sense of unity among all of the women who participated. This event provided the first opportunity to experience an actual race. The team also experienced the first taste of winning at this festival and it was to be a very powerful elixir!

Two team rituals were born at this festival: the Circle of Strength and the team song. The Circle was a spontaneous suggestion by Margo Kleiker before the first race as a way to calm nerves and remember that we had already won the hardest race by being breast cancer survivors. The team song came as a way to help Bosom Buddies be recognized in the larger group. During practices, other teams used a chant or a song as they made their way to the race lanes. The first time this happened many of the Bosom Buddies were heart broken that they didn’t have a song to sing. As Sharon Driscoll considered this dilemma, the song Farewell to Nova Scotia kept popping into her head and suddenly it seemed such an obvious song for Bosom Buddies to sing.

The words below were Sharon’s best answer to the question could Bosom Buddies make it their team song. While the words may not be the most poetic, they allowed Bosom Buddies’ voice to be heard.

BUDDIES THEME SONG

We’ve come together one and all
We’ve come to face our fears and live
We paddle proud and strong and free
Nova Scotia Bosom Buddies in song are we
Farwell Nova Scotia
Your sea bound coast
Let your mountains dark and dreary be
For when I am far away
On a briny ocean tossed
Will you ever heave a sigh
And a wish for me
At the end of the final survivor race at the Vancouver Festival, all of the breast cancer survivor teams gathered in their boats and joined together in the racing laneway to inaugurate the first Carnation Ceremony something that has become a standing ritual.

CBC Radio had decided to do a feature on Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boating while the teams were in Vancouver. Margo Kleiker and Sandy Smith of Abreast in a Boat were interviewed on their national morning show. It was the first time Bosom Buddies received national recognition.

Eileen Pease and Ginny Luck had submitted a sponsorship proposal to Maritime Life and in November of 1999, a call came from Pat Smith of Maritime Life expressing interest in becoming the team’s major corporate sponsor. In February of 2000, Ginny Luck announced the team officially had a sponsor.

Martime Life’s substantial support also allowed Bosom Buddies to bring life to one of Margo Klieker’s dreams……….a small version of a dragon boat that she dubbed the “baby dragon boat”. She mused about how wonderful it would be to have one for the South Shore. Once Maritime Life had agreed to fund our budget, Margo with her husband Ian set about to get a baby dragon boat for the team. They consulted with a local marine architect and a well-known boat builder in Petite Riviere Scott Dagley to see what could be done. After careful observation of Mr. Wong’s dragon boat a new design was completed and Scott Dagley began to build the first Baby Dragon Boat.

The boat was completed in time for the Mahone Bay Wooden Boat Festival that summer, and with the help of Mieke Martin, Bernadette Schmitt, Anne Matthiasson and Natalie Bourke the boat was outfitted with a proper head and tail so it’s eye could be blessed and dotted as part of its official launch.

There was considerable thought given to how team members might keep up their level of physical activity during the off season. While the south shore members had from the first year met weekly to do aerobics, the metro members had no venue to exercise as a group. Kathe LeJeune approached the Shearwater Recreation Centre to see if the team could use their facilities as a group to exercise together, and so the Shearwater practices began.

By the end of the summer of 2000, Margo Kleiker and Sharon Driscoll felt it was time to address a kind of “identity crisis”. Two opposing identities emerged as two questions. Are we primarily a support group, which means that the values of inclusion and support underlie our decisions? Or are we a competitive team, in which, individual competence and merit would underline our decisions?

Although Margo Kleiker had previously put forth a Mission Statement that had been approved by the group, it was now clear that if a Mission Statement was going to be effective, it needed to be something that was generated by the whole group.

Margo Kleiker, Eileen Pease and Sharon Driscoll put together a daylong workshop at the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority building in September 2000 to facilitate the generation of a Mission Statement that could be owned and embraced by everyone.

Out of the process, the group as a whole hammered out a one sentence composite. During this process members decided not only which words were to be included, but also in which order they should be placed. The words generated through this workshop still stand as Bosom Buddies’ Mission Statement. This statement was a remarkable feat in that it took the essence of the two seemingly opposing views and melded them together in a way that embodied the organization of both a support group and as a competitive team.

MISSION STATEMENT
Bosom Buddies is a group of breast cancer
survivors committed to support and care
for each other, to paddle as a Dragon
Boat Team and to increase our self esteem
while building our physical and emotional health.
In May 2003 we lost our Co-founder Margo Kleiker. While she had not been visibly active in the organization for quite some time, she continued to care deeply about the life and health of Bosom Buddies. Within a few weeks of her passing, a Carnation Ceremony was performed at Lake Banook following the breast cancer survivor race. Sharon Driscoll participated in the race and later wrote that it is the Carnation Ceremony that embodied the reality that we are all in the same boat, and together we can live with zest.

Editor’s Note: This written account is Sharon Driscoll’s recollection of early events that heralded and shaped the group we have today. Sharon writes there are many other stories that belong to the history and ongoing life of Bosom Buddies, which will be for other voices to relay.

Reference: Bosom Buddies of Nova Scotia
Chronicle of the Early History by Sharon Driscoll. Co-founder
Published by The Printing House. Halifax Nova Scotia