'Roses' show how canoeing can help overcome adversity

“Sometimes weeks can go by without any mention of cancer, but sometimes we talk about it a lot when one of us has had bad news.”

How can it be that a group of women, each with their own terrifying experience of taking on the cruellest and most insidious of diseases, can be having so much fun and enjoying life so much?

Because that's what Roses en Baie, or 'Roses in the Bay', is all about. Strength in numbers. A firmly held belief that by joinng together, this group of French women will have the power to stare down the scourge of breast cancer.

And on the odd occasions when cancer does win out, the group are there for each other, talking openly about their feelings, helping one another come through to the other side.

Roses en Baie was formed in October 2013, inspired by a television story about a team of women who competed in the famous ‘Vogalonga’ in Venice.

The women in the story had all dealt with, or were dealing with, breast cancer. Sadly, it wasn’t hard to find enough women in a similar situation in the small French city of Granville, population approx. 20,000, to put together enough crew for a dragon boat of their own.

Roses en Baie now has 74 members, although some are there through solidarity. The average age of the members is 42.

“Our special bond is cancer (and its treatment), but several people who have not had cancer also participate, out of solidarity,” Laure Coulombier-Keenan, one of the original ‘Roses’, said.

“A few of us left us for a ‘better world’, as we say. It is very difficult, we realise we are “lucky survivors”, but what we call the “Sword of Damoclès” is still there.

“Usually we keep in touch with the families, if they want to, and once a year, when we organise the “Roses’ March” in October (1500 persons), we show pictures of our missing friends on a giant screen.”

The bond between members is very strong, and while in an ideal world it would be good if there were no new members, the doors are always open for anyone touched by breast cancer.

Laure Coulombier-Keenan said it’s a ‘much cheaper form of group therapy'.

“Sport is absolutely necessary to recover from illness, and it is recommended from the very beginning of treatment,” she said.

“On top of this, sharing and solidarity are very effective in keeping our spirits up and showing us that anything is possible. Everyone is free to do as they wish, according to their mood and their experience of their illness.

“Discussions and exchanges are sometimes on a one-to-one basis, or in small groups, according to affinities. Sometimes weeks can go by without any mention of cancer, but sometimes we talk about it a lot when one of us has had bad news after a check up.

“Humour plays a very important part when we get together, helping us to take a step back and see the bigger picture. No two situations are the same, so it is comforting to hear other people’s experiences, it helps to put things into perspective.

“It is also reassuring to have doctors, whether cancer patients or not, as members of our association as we know we can ask them any questions we have.

“We celebrate together good results from blood tests or scans, we try to support members who learn they have relapsed, and we are there to provide support for family members in the event of a death.”


Despite the initial intention to unite through dragon boat, the group soon realised that was not sustainable. Because everyone lives on the coast, the logical place to train is on the ocean, and that was proving difficult in the bigger boat.

“We realised that those big boats were not made for use in the sea,” Laure Coulombier-Keenan said.

 “So we took up sea kayaking, built for one or two paddlers, which is good for retraining shoulders and arms that have been left in a bad way after surgery. And soon we will also be using outrigger canoes.

“This year (like last year) will be devoted to fund raising to buy a large outrigger canoe, which will enable us to take part in the regattas in the Chausey Islands, an archipelago off the coast of Granville, which we are not allowed to do in our small kayaks.

“We train from March to October, and to keep fit we do dancing, yoga, climbing and walking during the winter months. One of our goals this year is to compete in the Vogalonga again.”

Talking to Laure Coulombier-Keenan, you get a very clear understanding of how determined this group of women really are. They have had plenty of hurdles to clear, both on and off the water, and they’ve done so with vigour.

There will be more hurdles too, but Laure Coulombier-Keenan said there’s a sense of excitement among the group.

“We still have many problems to overcome, in particular meeting over winter and insurance expenses,” she said.

“But we are eagerly looking forward to the delivery of the new boats, which we are expecting at the beginning of April. An instructor will come and spend a whole weekend with us to give us advice.”

Of course, the Roses en Baie are always looking for new supporters. Financial supporters, especially, are always welcome.

They can be contacted at rosesenbaie@orange.fr

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