Our C-U Women Outdoors series is all about highlighting the women in our community who are passionate about the outdoors. Meet Christel Seyfert & Tricia Whitcomb, a mother-daughter duo who paddle for the Prairie Dragon Paddlers, and are breast cancer survivors.
Name: Tricia Whitcomb & Christel Seyfert
Tricia: Home School Mom
Christel: I have been retired since July 2011. I was employed thirty-three years with School District 118. Twelve years as a teachers' aide and twenty-one years as the secretary to the director of buildings and grounds.
T: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2019 at the age of 49. My mom had a different type of breast cancer when she was 50, and she recommended I see her doctor in Indianapolis. After a follow-up visit post-mastectomy surgery, I was in the mastectomy shop at the cancer clinic, and the lady helping me saw on my insurance forms that I am from Champaign, IL, and she told me about her experience with the Indy SurvivOars dragon boat team, and how they helped start a team in Champaign. Both are exclusively BCS (breast cancer survivor) teams. She connected me with the local team.
C: I was born and raised in West Germany and came to the USA in November 1967 as a Nanny in Danville, IL. (The family paid for my round trip airline ticket, I had free room and board and $5 a week pocket money). I met my husband during that year and we raised our family - Tricia and my son, Stephan, - in Danville. Around Christmas 2016, I moved to Urbana to be closer to them and my grandchildren.
What does “outdoors” mean to you?
T: I have always loved being outdoors. I love hiking, camping, biking, and enjoying nature. I also love learning about the plants and animals. Being out in nature is invigorating and calming to me.
C: Fresh air, exercise, fun times - picnics, bike rides (love the trail to St. Joe) swimming, walking, pickle ball, and dragon boat racing.
If the weather is nice on a Saturday, what can we find you doing?
T: You would find me out walking, hiking, or biking! I love the fall colors and being out exploring! (Often, in late October, you'd find us at the Tour de Shawnee bike ride in southern IL, followed by camping at Garden of the Gods park. This year, I cannot participate, as I am having surgery the day before the ride.)
C: Walking one of my grand-dogs. :)
As mother and daughter, what is it like getting to share the experience of dragon boat racing together?
C: I was sad when my daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer at exactly the same age I was when I was diagnosed. We've always been close and have done many things together. Paddling is one more fun activity we both have loved very much right off the start.
T: I love doing this together with my mom! I talked her into going to meet one of the leaders to learn more about it, and her words to me were, "I'll go with you to meet her and hear about it, but I don't think I'll do it." We were then invited to try it out. After trying it, we were barely out of the boat when she asked me, "Are we ready to join?" Ha ha! I needed to wait and see if I was going to be down for the count over the summer with chemo and all its exhausting side effects, before committing. But once I found out my treatment would be a bit different than traditional, we both jumped in whole-heartedly! I absolutely love being on the team with all these amazing ladies and the encouraging environment they surround each other with, and being on the team, sometimes as seat partners with my mom, is the best! She has been a huge part of that encouragement to me. At the races, they have a ceremony to recognize survivors. Every one of us receives a pink rose or carnation. At some races, they group you by how long you have been a survivor. My mom brought me her flower and told me she wanted me to have it because she wanted me to be a survivor in her category, some day, too! We both cried, it was so touching to me!!
You two are the youngest and oldest breast cancer survivors on The Prairie Dragon Paddlers. What different perspectives do your ages bring to the team?
C: It is amazing how medical treatments have changed in the last twenty years. It also goes to show, breast cancer is NOT a death sentence!
T: As I am the most recently diagnosed survivor, I would say that I bring the perspective of soaking in all the encouragement and support from those who have been there before me, since I am only months out from diagnosis and surgery, and I am still in treatment. My mom, being over 20 years as a survivor, brings hope to those of us just starting our fight.
What was the biggest challenge when you were first getting started paddling?
T: After having lymph nodes removed, I ended up having cording in my arm. I could not raise my arm on one side. This made paddling on the other side only, my "thing". I was blessed to have a fantastic physical therapist who specifically works only with oncology, lymphedema, and cording patients. He helped me with therapies to do at home, and by the end of summer, the cording is gone, and I can now paddle on both sides!
C: As active as I am, it's a totally different sport. The races are hard. I had to work on upper respiratory strength. A team sister suggested Jumping Jacks, and I'm up to forty!
What is the best part of being on the team?
T: The best part of being on the team is the positive environment, the encouragement, and being with others who "get" what you're going through, and have been there. We are all "in the same boat", even with different treatments and experiences. They inspire hope!
C: As for myself, I have learned I have more left in me than I thought I had. In races, I give it all I have - tongue hanging out and heart pumping. The best part is the camaraderie and being able to give support and encouragement to my paddling sisters. We all are in the same boat.
Any words of wisdom for women currently fighting breast cancer?
C: Focus on being a survivor! Join our Prairie Dragon Paddlers' Team for a wonderful group of sister support.
T: Always bring another person with you to your appointments for a second set of ears. Ask questions! Don't read research older than two years. People will try to sell you their stuff to cure you, but listen to your doctor, surround yourself with love and support. Pray, and find what brings you some quiet and peace.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
C: When going through treatment and you feel as though you have no strength left, be sure to save enough energy each day to do one fun activity for yourself. Also, accept your family's and friends' help. They love you and want to support you as best they can on this tough road.
What’s at the top of your bucket list?
T: I have always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. Someday I hope to do that! I love exploring, traveling, and being outdoors, so I am continuing to do my best to enjoy life and get out and do what I can. I may have struggles, medicine side effects and down days, and such, but I'm not going to stop trying.
C: I want to dance at my youngest granddaughter's (6 years old) wedding. :)
Is there anything you’re working on/a project that you are a part of that you’re most excited
about right now?
T: My husband and I just coordinated and rode a 17 mile bike ride with the youth from our church. It was a fundraiser to rescue people in human trafficking in the United States, with an organization called F.R.E.E. International.