At 17, Deb Middleton lost her mother to breast cancer. At 33, she was facing the same disease. The diagnosis hit her dad and brother hard. “It was incredibly difficult for my family,” the Port Coquitlam resident told The Tri-City News. “They didn’t want to go through the pain again.” A native of the Isle of Man, Middleton moved to Canada to work as a nanny, caring for three young children. She loved her life, and was healthy and strong, so the test results came back as a shock.
Luckily, though, the illness was caught early and she made a full recovery after surgery. It was around this time that “Dr. Don” entered her life. In 1996, Dr. Don McKenzie sought to disprove a UBC study that concluded women who had breast cancer shouldn’t do upper-body exercises because they would develop lymphedema.
For his hypothesis, he picked 24 women from the Lower Mainland — including Middleton — to start a program called Abreast In A Boat, the world’s first dragon boat team made up only of female breast cancer survivors. Middleton took to the sport like a duck to water, even leading the crew. But the following year, the cancer returned. She underwent radiation only to find it come back two years later,
quite aggressively. Again, Middleton licked the disease. Today, she proudly states, “I’m clear. I’m fabulous and I’m so, so lucky. I live and love every day.”