“THE calendar is a chance to celebrate life — those who have fought for it, those who are still fighting, and those who fought bravely and lived life to the full, but are not with us now.”
Those were the words of Val Elliffe, from Crosshaven, one of 16 participants in the Cork Dragons 2019 calendar, launched at the weekend.
The calendar is aimed at fundraising for a new boat house, as well as donating a percentage of the proceeds to Marymount Hospice and the cancer support unit at ARC House.
“We decided to do this calendar as a fundraiser for our club,” says Cork Dragon and creative director, Rachel Slye.
The Cork Dragons, set up in 2012, is a boating group of breast cancer survivors, friends and family, who paddle 40ft boats with dragon, heads, tails and drums on the River Lee on a weekly basis.
“I encouraged these amazing dragons to take part,” says Rachel. “Every month is a breast cancer survivor, putting their fears to one side and taking part in a calendar, celebrating that they have survived breast cancer.
“We did the shoot all over Cork city and other locations were Cobh, Guileen and Myrtleville. The calendars will sell for €10 each and we hope to sell 1,000 copies, which will make €10,000, going a long way towards our clubhouse.”
Did Rachel struggle to recruit volunteers for the calendar?
“It took a lot of persuasion and prosecco to get the right pictures,” says Rachel. “But all the Dragons enjoyed the experience and don’t regret it. It is something everyone should do just once!”
The participants got to celebrate the launch of the calendar at Tequila Jacks last Saturday night.
Speaking about her involvement, Miss July, Hilda Collins, from Cloyne, who shares the month with Mary Troy, said: “I was trying to keep under the radar. But I got roped in like everybody else, and it’s all good.”
Val Elliffe, Miss December, from Crosshaven, wasn’t sure either at first that she would dip her toe in the water.
“When I first heard about the idea for the calendar from Rachel Slye, I said absolutely ‘no’! As the idea took shape I was happy to help with the organising.
“When I was asked to be in a photo with my friend, Maria, who was battling cancer the second time around, I jumped at the chance. We had such a fun day for our shoot in Myrtleville with a friend’s vintage car. We laughed from start to finish and I cherish those memories dearly. It was my last meeting with Maria, who looked so beautiful and who was so brave.”
Maria Logan, from Grange, Douglas, passed away on September 15, aged 53, after her cancer came back last June.
Val added: “Our calendar launch, although tinged with sadness for all of us, is a chance to celebrate life.”
Maria’s son David and her daughter Holly rowed in together to accompany Val on her walk of pride at the calendar launch.
“Cork Dragons gave mum the best times she had,” says David.
“For anyone battling illness, go find these guys. You will be better off with them.”
There was a special dedication to another Dragons member, who wasn’t in the photoshoot, Tara Sheridan, who predeceased Maria.
The Cork Dragons have an upbeat message to put out there.
“Together we have taken our lives back and we have shared the most amazing and fun-filled experiences,” says Miss February, Marie O’Shea, from Turners Cross.
“Getting involved with the calendar was still a huge step for me and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the confidence and support that we as dragons and friends give to each other.
“This calendar will help our club to grow and develop as we look forward to discovering new and even more fun challenges and living happy, healthy lives together.”
The Dragons are a family, paddling their own canoe together.
“I agreed to be part of the calendar in a moment of weakness,” says Miss August, Carol O’Donohue, together with Eileen O’Mahony.
“I felt I needed to do it as it is so much out of my comfort zone (and still is). And also show people that there is a life after a cancer diagnosis,” says Carol, originally from Fermoy.
“Cork Dragons for me is much more than a sport. Cork Dragons is friendship, fun, support and love. My second family.”
Miss May, Mags Daly, from Mallow, said: “I never thought I’d be stripping off for a calendar. But since I kicked cancer in the ass in 2017, I look at my life from a total different angle.”
Mags is on the crest of a wave: “I’m very proud of my body and I’ll be doing Dip in the Nip next year. It is a great way of meeting so many people who have kicked cancer in the ass.”
The only male in the calendar line-up was Mr November, Mark O’Connor, from Togher.
“Being the only man, I was a bit tentative,” he says “But I decided to do it as a way of creating awareness that men get breast cancer too.
“So obviously my month is November in conjunction with Movember. I was diagnosed in 2011 with breast cancer and had a mastectomy of my left breast and full clearance of my lymph nodes and had seven months of chemotherapy and 25 sessions of radiotherapy.
“It was a really tough time for me, my wife, Tina, and son Dylan.
“Seven years on, I’m in remission and the Cork Dragons have been amazing for me and many others.”
Among the proud sponsors of the Cork Dragons Calendar, 2019, is Miss October, Caroline Warren, originally of Douglas, living in Bandon.
“I got involved with the calendar because Cork Dragons is a charity close to my heart,” she said.
“They promote a healthy and active lifestyle. After a cancer diagnosis in 2011, and leukaemia in 2013, and five years in remission, I wanted to do something totally out of my comfort zone.
“It is my way of giving two fingers to cancer, looking happy and healthy and finally closing the door on what was a tough, tough time.”
The ladies and the man have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
“All the participants went out of their comfort zone to appear in the calendar,” says Rachel.
“Some of the girls were nervous at first. But then they got into it. You know that you’re OK when we all paddle together.”
The Cork Dragons calendar costs €10 and is available in the lingerie section of Marks & Spencer, Patrick Street, from November 10, and also from sponsors: Grange Dry Cleaners, the Bunnyconnellan Bar & Restaurant, Myrtleville, Bellisma, Victoria Cross, and Touch Therapy, Douglas St.
The role call includes: Miss January, Tracey Nugent and Helen Macaulay, Miss February Marie O’Shea, Miss March Linda Quinlan, Miss April, Yvonne O’Connell, Miss May Mags Daly, Miss June, Martina Torpey, Miss July Hilda Collins and Mary Troy, Miss August, Eileen O’Mahony and Carol O’Donohoe, Miss September, Linda Cronin and Martina Oliver, Miss October Caroline O’Mahony, Mr November, Mark O’ Connor and Miss December, Val Elliffe, and Maria Logan.