Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dragon boats for hope

Annual festival raises money for the Canadian Cancer Society

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On Friday and Saturday, 56 dragon-boat groups, with about 25 members per boat, took to the shores of Lake Shirley near Murdock Road. They took part in a slew of races and paused to hold a touching tribute for cancer victims and survivors.

The tribute is an annual tradition and this year saw eight colourful boats staggered across the lake for a flower-throwing ceremony.

All of the paddlers on the lake had either battled cancer and survived, or lost a loved one to the disease. They held single carnations and roses high above their heads in commemoration.

Lawrence Traa spoke briefly over the PA system about his victorious battle against brain cancer. He was diagnosed in 2011 and finally beat the disease after an intense 14-hour surgery, 35 bouts of radiation and 13 months of chemotherapy.

"I just finished chemo last Wednesday," he said with a smile.

Traa had a brief memory lapse in 2011 that signalled to him something might be wrong with his brain.

"I was watching American Idol one night and the cat ran by and I forgot its name... then I forgot everybody's names, all at once," he said.

Traa remembered all of the names about a half-hour later, but went to the doctor to see if something might be wrong upstairs.

"He goes, 'Well, Lawrence, you're 50. It's probably old age.' "

Traa didn't believe him, so when he went back home, he tried to map out all the names he'd forgotten. He found the older names he knew came back to him first.

"I thought I must have pressure on my brain. So I went back to the doctor and said, 'Look. I need a CT scan,' " said Traa.

His instincts were spot on and after the CT scan, the doctor told Traa he had a tumour in his brain.

"Of course the first thing that hits me is despair," said Traa. "But I didn't allow pajama day. In other words, you can't allow that to drag you and your spirits down."

Traa's pragmatic approach led him to seek out an innovative surgeon in Calgary, who managed to remove 70 per cent of the tumour in his brain.

Before the surgery, doctors had predicted Traa had two years to live.

Post-surgery, they're predicting he has eight years.

"I said, 'Good, now let's get to 20 (years). That's a good start," Traa said.

The survivor's inspiring speech at the ceremony was followed by a moment of silence that rang loudly across the still lake. A few babies crying and some yapping dogs only echoed how quiet the rest of the large crowd was.

After the moment of silence, Miranda Dube sang a heartfelt ballad while the paddlers threw their long-stemmed buds in the lake. The pink and red flowers floated peacefully on the murky water.

The 2014 River City Dragon Boat Festival raised just over $130,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society, said McKnight, and all of the money raised will go toward funding innovative cancer research, much like the kind that saved Traa. "The crowd out here today, every penny they've raised helps me survive that much longer," he said.

jessica.botelho-urbanski@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 8, 2014 A3

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