Janelle Pritchard – DA Brisbane Posted on: 28 July 2022
Janelle (known within the DAA and the Brisbane club as ‘JP’), was first diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2002. ‘What a wet fish in the face moment that was to be told – you have breast cancer’, Janelle recalls. Post diagnosis, Janelle underwent a mastectomy, nine (9) months of chemo and radiation, followed by a had a tram flap reconstruction to her left breast, a reduction to her right breast and a ‘nipple creation’ to her left breast. Janelle was also invited to participate in long term trial in the use of Tamoxifen to test if extended usage helped prolong lives for people diagnosed with breast cancer. Janelle completed the trial in 2013.
Janelle was first introduced to breast cancer paddling by Leonie Young. At that time Leonie was a ‘home visitor’ for the Redlands, Queensland region. After attending a breast cancer conference at the Marriott at the Gold Coast, our JP met Janelle Gamble and Edith Cooper. Edith said ‘Come along and have a paddle. You will love it’.
So shortly afterwards on a very chilly Wednesday night in August 2003, Janelle went along to have her first paddle. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards she underwent more surgery which frustrated Janelle’s plan to try dragon boat paddling.
If anyone knows Janelle, she doesn’t give up on her plans easily. She was still keen and determined to retry this ‘paddling thing’. In late April, 2005 Janelle decided to ‘seize the day’ and have another go at paddling. Her family all thought her mad to get up early on the long weekend in May to make the trip down to the Brisbane River at Colmslie to meet a bunch of other mad breast cancer paddlers going paddling.
Janelle recalls the cold, but clear morning at the old 18 Footers Sailing Club. She soon met Edith and other Brisbane members of the ‘Missabittatitti’ club. She loved the paddle and the friendly welcome from other breast cancer survivors. Soon afterwards she attended her first regatta at Tin Can Bay and the thrill of racing with the team then sealed the deal.
She loved the sport so much that she started getting involved with DAA by running the raffle for the Abreast in Australia international regatta at Kawana in 2007 and soon afterwards got involved with the management of MBT. Janelle first held the role of Fundraising Officer. Later she became Secretary, Vice Coordinator and Coordinator of the Brisbane Club who in collaboration with her executive, drafted the first constitution for the Missabittatitti club, formally now known as Dragons Abreast Brisbane Incorporated, although ‘Missabittatitti’ is still fondly used.
Janelle has attended many regional, state, national and all IBCPC regattas since 2005. Janelle fondly recalls winning first place at the 2012 Club Crew World Championships in Hong Kong.
When Janelle hit the 10-year mark of the long term trial , she thought that would be the end of chemotherapy, treatments and hospital visits. But just a couple of years later, in July 2015, Janelle was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
Post diagnosis Janelle went through hundreds of hours of even stronger chemotherapy and was kept in isolation for almost 12 months. Her only chance of survival was a transplant program of bone marrow or stem cells. She was exceptionally fortunate to find a donor match via her sister Barbara – Janelle’s younger.
Initially Janelle wasn’t sure about whether she would be considered for a transplant due to a pre-existing diagonosis of breast cancer and her age until she told her haematologist, Professor Geoff Hill, about her love for dragon boating.
Professor Hill asked about hobbies and exercise. She advisesd him that she had completed a 55km paddle of the Ord River just three weeks prior to diagnosis for Leukae. The Professor asked if Janelle did the paddle over a week or more. She advised, ‘No, we paddle The Ord River in the Kimberley’s in just 1 day.
Immediately Professor Hill said “If you were fit enough to do all that in one day, You will be fit enough to cope with a transplant,”. Janelle and her family were delighted and also equates being accepted into the paddling program due to her involvement with breast cancer paddling and DAA.
While Janelle was in hospital recovering from chemo, she heard the news that the next international regatta was to be held in Florence, Italy. Janelle recalls, “I was lying in bed thinking, I’m going to get through this,” she told DAA. “I had to get well for my husband and family of course, but I gave myself a goal to get well enough to go to Florence and paddle with my club,” Janelle said.
After her transplant Janelle was determined to build her fitness back up and joined the ‘Fit to Thrive’ program. She would also go to the local pool every day and walk up and down the pool. Soon walking became swimming and she returned to paddling about 1 year later.
“Of course my fitness improved, but I became excited to rejoin my team and paddle. I became more enthusiastic about life and my whole demeanour changed once I was back with my MBT team.” Now, Janelle is back to nearly the same activity level.
Janelle returned to the Dragons Abreast Brisbane’s management committee again in 2017 as Secretary. She now writes grants for DA Brisbane and also for Dragons Abreast and has collaborated with other clubs to help them with their grant submissions.
Janelle celebrated her 20th anniversary this year after hearing her original diagnosis ‘You have breast cancer’. She still paddles between travelling with her husband in their caravan and will be attending the international regatta in New Zealand.