About 30 years ago, Goldie Cross was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
She was one of the lucky one though, she said, because she went into remission soon after and didn’t even require treatment.
“Well personally, I think it was an answered prayer,” Cross said.
But despite the briefness of her bout, cancer has since and always will be part of her life.
Cross, who originally is from Detroit, Mich., and moved to Kauai five years ago, joined the Puuwai Pink Paddlers about a year and a half ago — a group of cancer survivors who paddle with the outrigger canoe club Hui O Mana Ka Puuwai.
Last year, she took part in the Paddle for Life, an annual event in which cancer survivors and supporters paddle from Lahaina to Lanai and back.
The eighth annual Paddle for Life is coming up on Oct. 8. Cross spent time with The Garden Island to talk about overcoming cancer, joining the Puuwai club and taking part in last year’s voyage.
Since you’re part of the Puuwai Pink Paddlers, cancer must have somehow affected your life. Can you tell me how?
Sure. It was about 30 years ago. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I’m one of the lucky ones. I went into spontaneous remission without any treatment.
(Puuwai Pink Paddlers), it’s basically for anyone who has had cancer or a caregiver — somebody who is supporting a friend or a family member who has been touched with cancer. It’s just a good way to get together, exercise and have camaraderie.
It’s really nice because everyone who is paddling with us is in some way a cancer survivor or has been touched by cancer. There’s that common factor, and we understand when people have to go for checkups or treatments. I think it makes it easier.
How long after you were diagnosed that you went into remission?
When I was diagnosed, over the course of several weeks while we were trying to do the staging process, that’s when they decided that I was in remission and that they couldn’t find any active cancer. So, I never had any type of treatment.
Well, it probably took a couple of months truthfully.
How did that happen?
Well personally, I think it was an answered prayer. I was seeing three different doctors, and had the diagnosis confirmed by the University of Michigan and the National Cancer Institute. As they were doing the staging to determine what kind of treatment I should undergo, they couldn’t find any evidence that the cancer was still active. And I’ve never come out of remission, and I’ve never had treatment.
Wow, I can’t imagine. It must have been like being at the lowest of lows, then being at the highest of highs.
Oh, yeah. I had a friend who said I was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. She never knew which one she was going to get talking to me, because when you hear the word cancer, the first thing you think of is terminal.
But I don’t want to be so much about me and my cancer. It’s about all of us that are paddling and being survivors.
OK then. When did you get involved with the Puuwai Pink Paddlers? How long ago, and what you’ve been doing since joining?
Well, I got involved about a year and a half ago. I saw an article, actually an ad, in The Garden Island newspaper — that they were coming together and forming a group called the Pink Paddlers for cancer survivors. It was in the afternoon after I got off work, and I thought, “Oh wow, this is cool. I’d like to try this.” I went to the river, and the rest of the members at Puuwai were really sweet. They decorated a canoe with flowers and leis. We went out on the river for a paddle, and I just fell in love with it. So, that’s how I got involved.
Then last year, five of us from Kauai ended up going over to Maui, joining the Maui Manaolana cancer survivors. We paddled in this Paddle for Life Voyage between Maui and Lanai. It was just a very special time.
So you’re going back again this year?
I wish I could do it this year. Unfortunately, I recently had surgery. … It has nothing to do with cancer. Because of the surgery, you don’t want to go in the water with any type of open incisions or wounds.
So what do the Pink Paddlers do year-round?
Well basically, we paddle. We paddle on the Wailua River. There’s a season for paddling, and we tend to paddle year-round.
One of the things, because many of our Pink Paddlers have been out this year either because of illness or childbirth, we were planning to try a new recruitment to try to get more paddlers to join us or more people to join us — starting probably towards the end of October.
Just open it up, and let people on Kauai know that there’s this group of paddlers that paddle on the Wailua River. We don’t tend to go out to the ocean. It’s just for exercise and camaraderie.
It’s great exercise. We paddle two days a week — Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
Have you paddled before joining Puuwai?
No, I did not. Last year, it was the first time I’ve paddled. I fell in love with it, and I didn’t realize how important it had become to me until I was coming back from the Mainland on vacation and Hawaiian Airlines was showing Molokai Hoe (outrigger canoe race) on the movie screen. I sat there watching it with chicken skin and just got very emotional watching it.
I realized it had become a very important part of my life.
Last year when we paddled in the Paddle for Life Voyage, it was my first time paddling out on open ocean. Again, it was a very emotional time for me. I sat there welling up inside, the fact that here I am out in open ocean paddling between two islands. It’s something I never dreamed of doing.
I understand it goes from Lahaina to Lanai, correct?
And the paddle itself is about 30-something miles?
It’s a 34-mile roundtrip journey. It’s not a race — it’s a voyage.
And it helps to raise funds for Maui’s cancer community, to help with educational support, nutritional support, transportation, health fairs, clinical trials, support groups, and staying fit classes.
So, the Pacific Cancer Foundation does a lot of good things for cancer survivors and people dealing with cancer itself.
To be part of the event last year, considering your own personal story, how huge was that to you?
Well, it was extremely important. There were over 200 cancer survivors and supporters who paddled.
What’s really neat, because obviously you’re not going to paddle 17 miles without a break, we had both an escort boat as well as a Zodiac (inflatable boat), we would transfer — we would do what they call “dry transfers” between the escort boat and the canoe.
It was very special. Once you got over to Lanai, there was a time for lunch, for gathering, and just visiting people who have done the paddle — done the voyage. Spending the night on Lanai, they actually camped out over there. And then the next morning, they paddled back to Lahaina.
It was just a really neat time of camaraderie, and just a feeling of community. Again, we’d like to try to open this up to other cancer survivors and supporters here on Kauai, and grow our numbers — to highlight the three people from Kauai going to Maui next month.
Also, to just let everyone know that we do this year-round, and it’s open to anybody that either had cancer, has cancer, or is supporting a family member or a loved one who has cancer.
Info: www.facebook.com/puuwaipinkpaddlers. Cross: email@example.com.