Jocelyne Busslinger: healing waters
In 2011, when Jocelyne Busslinger learned she has breast cancer, one of the first things she thought of was – ‘I can join a Survivor Dragon Boat team.’
With the unfaltering family support of her husband Anselm, daughter Marjolen, son-in-law Shawn, son Eric, and later grandsons Declan & Lochlan, Jocelyne made it through cancer treatment and did just that – she joined Sistership Dragon Boat Team and found it possible to face an uncertain future.
Reflections – in Jocelyne’s own words
“Post surgery and treatment my mind shifted to recovery. I hadn’t done much paddling at all, but somewhere along the way I heard that breast cancer survivors did dragon boating. I guess this was my way of putting a positive spin on life-altering news.
I joined Sistership in 2012 and I immediately felt such a kinship. The peer support and connection we have is real. I have made so many wonderful friends through paddling.
Our Sistership team has spent hundreds of hours strength training at the YMCA, and undertaking water practices in our Sistership Dragon Boat on the Glenmore Reservoir. Sistership has raced in dragon boat festivals across Canada and internationally. Highlights were in 2014 in Sarasota and 2018 in Florence, Italy with 2,000 breast cancer Survivors from across the world.
In 2018, dragon boating led me to Outrigger canoeing – a slightly different version where you paddle on both sides of the canoe. I learned outrigging in order to take part in a cancer fundraiser called ‘Paddle for Life’ in Maui, and later, ‘Paddle Palooza,’ a 48 km journey in July of 2022 on Montana’s Flathead Lake.
In 2021, an illness presented a new challenge, whereby I had to make a decision to focus on outrigger paddling. After a decade, I became a non-paddling member of Sistership. Still, my ties to Sistership are as strong as ever. I can never give up these lifetime bonds. I consider myself a lifelong advocate and volunteer.
Before cancer, it never would have occurred to me to try dragon boating – it was a cancer diagnosis that propelled me to find paddling as a coping mechanism. I will be forever grateful for that!”
Life After Cancer
Today, at 70 years young, Jocelyne is living proof that there is life after cancer. In fact, she is not just living, but living well – a life full of love, joy, and grand adventures. Remarkably, cancer didn’t derail her life, instead it steered her toward the water where she has reaped countless health benefits and regained strength, confidence and trust in her body. Perhaps equally important Jocelyne discovered an untapped passion, and experienced the profoundly rewarding joy of finding her ‘tribe.’
The Wellspring Connection
Jocelyne joined Wellspring back in 2011 while awaiting radiation treatment for breast cancer. Ironically, prior to her diagnosis, she had watched Wellspring’s Carma House being built near her workplace along the bank of the Bow River, and was curious about what the building would house.
“I was working as a physiotherapist at Bow View Manor. Every day I would drive by this construction site and I wondered ‘what is this building?’ Then, a few years later, I came to know it well. I joined Wellspring and would often come there after my radiation treatments to compose myself before going back to work,” she said.
In her early years at Wellspring, Jocelyne mainly enjoyed Restorative Yoga and the music programs, discovering Ukulele, and becoming an enthusiastic member of the Campfire Classics group – which she still belongs to today. Jocelyne fondly recalls an early Wellspring event where she participated in a Flash Mob dance at Banker’s Hall – a promotion for a Wellspring’s awareness event called ‘Toupee for A Day.’
“Although I appreciated the Wellspring support back then, I was so busy with Sistership, it didn’t really leave much time to get into all the other offerings,” she said. She and her husband did join the hiking program and Jocelyne says she appreciated the caregiver support, as her husband was welcomed with open arms to hike with his Wellspring buddies while she was away at festivals.
Ironically, Jocelyne didn’t really tap into the broader selection of Wellspring programs until November of 2021 (a decade after joining Wellspring), when she was diagnosed with Acute Transverse Myelitis – an inflammation of your myelin in the spine.
“I lost all sensation below mid-spine. As a physiotherapist I knew what was happening and this is not a diagnosis you want to hear,” she said.
After eight days in hospital, she was released with a sparse regimen of exercises, and a looming fear that this serious condition would put an end to her paddling. With an uncertain prognosis, she expected a year-long recovery at best.
On January 1, 2022, Jocelyne was busy filling her calendar with Wellspring programs – determined to be proactive in her recovery. “I registered for Tai Chi- Qi Gong, Functional Yoga, Meditation, Visualization and Mindfulness – all of these programs were only available on Zoom at that time and I was there for it,” she said.
Within months, Jocelyne had regained use of her full body and was nearly herself again. “I sincerely believe it is thanks to these Wellspring programs that I have fully recovered. This was my path to paddle again,” she said.
To give back, Jocelyne was recently a volunteer paddler with the Wellspring Young Adults group, who were invited on an outing to learn to Dragon Boat on the Glenmore Reservoir on a sunny afternoon.
“I really hope some of them pick up the passion of ‘paddling for life!’ Better still, I hope they find their own passion and pursue it!” she said. “There really is life after cancer.”
Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Don McKenzie started the Dragon Boat movement for breast cancer survivors. At Paddle Palooza he spoke about the research of paddling in a group of peers and how the camaraderie and mental well-being surpasses the physical benefits following a cancer diagnosis, while decreasing the risk of recurrence. He speaks of life after cancer, and Wellspring also exemplifies this philosophy in so many ways.”
– Jocelyne Busslinger