By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Leimomi Shearer figured canoe paddling would be a good way to raise awareness and honor breast cancer survivors and their ohana with the inaugural ‘E Ola Kakou (Let’s live) special event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Hilo Bayfront.
She’s the cancer program manager for Hui Malama Ola Na ‘Oiwi, which is offering free clinical breast exams with referrals for mammography exams, and free mammography exams for uninsured and underinsured women.
“Every year we do something different, and my heart has always been on the water. I wanted to get it back to the water somehow,” said Shearer, who used to paddle for Keaukaha and Kamehameha Canoe Clubs. “There’s something about being on the water. It gives you a different perspective of life, looking at the mountains and all the cars from the canoe.
“Native Hawaiian women have the highest mortality rate for breast and lung cancer. As women, we take care of everybody and sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves. The message is, take care of ourselves, so we can make sure to be there to take care of loved ones.”
She has first-hand experience with cancer.
Her mom, Geri Kalani, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1983, and nearly three decades later she’s still going strong at 79 years old, one reason early detection is such a sticking point with Shearer.
“One in eight women in our state will get breast cancer,” said Shearer, whose right hand in the canoe paddling part is Aunty Maile Mauhili. “Early prevention is the best-case scenario. Whether you’re an experienced paddler or a nonpaddler you can come down and hanai (adopt) a survivor. We’ve got the tools out there to use and we have to use them.”
Shearer’s children used to paddle for Kailana, Aunty Maile’s canoe club. The longtime paddling matriarch has had her share of cancer experience, too.
She lost a brother and sister to lung cancer, and her son, James, to leukemia. He was 43 years old when he died in 1995.
“We want to get survivors talking and honor people by paddling,” Aunty Maile said. “If people talk story, they can help other people, too. We need to get the public aware. We want people to hear about breast cancer.”
Shearer is hoping the special event, where people can paddle as a team or individuals can join a crew, becomes an annual one and leads to bigger things, like the Relay for Life Walk, a major fund-raising arm and awareness spotlight for the American Cancer Society.
At the very least, she wants people to be healthy.
“It will give people an opportunity to get in a canoe,” she said. “A lot of people who get into sports take care of themselves better. You can start small, maybe take a 10-minute walk. The National Institute of Health recommends 30 minutes.
“But maybe you can start out with five minutes and turn back. Then go longer the next time. Maybe people can drink one less soda a day to prevent diabetes.”
The two old friends continued to reminisce late into the day, swapping stories about their families and old times. That eventually brought the subject of breast cancer, and taking care of yourself back to the table.
“Everybody has a mother or a sister or an aunty,” Shearer said. “Everybody has a father, uncle or brother. Men can get breast cancer, too.”
For more information, call Shearer at 969-9220 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.