Tammy Osurman of West Maui has competed in 10 Nā Wāhine o Ke Kai canoe races — a grueling 42-mile paddle across the treacherous Kaiwi Channel from Moloka‘i to Waikīkī. This “Paddle Bunny” is in the canoe three days a week with the North Shore Renegades. Tammy has paddled in all 10 of the Pacific Cancer Foundation’s Paddle for Life: Voyage to Lāna‘i Events.

In 2009, Tammy wanted to support Mana‘olana Pink Paddlers when they needed an experienced paddler to help train them for the 68-mile paddle around Lāna‘i. Voyaging canoes rotate three crews — 30 minutes on, 60 minutes off. During a change, a fresh crew from an escort boat is dropped in front of the canoe; in unison, the paddlers jump out on the right and the fresh crew climbs into their seats. Could the Pink Paddlers manage these maneuvers?

“Operations, radiation and chemotherapy treatments weaken body and soul,” says Tammy. “Two Mana‘olana ladies had just completed therapy but were determined to go. But when you cannot lift your arm above your shoulder, how are you going to climb into a canoe or save yourself in a capsize? We needed to encourage them beyond their fears so they could succeed. When they hesitated at their first deep water change, I jumped into the ocean and told them I would catch them. When they could not get up in the canoe, I hung on the side and let them use my body as a step. Chemotherapy is harder than getting in a canoe! They paddled 48 miles on the first day (farther than my longest race) and became my heroes.

“Two months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and Pink Paddlers became my supporters. I knew they survived; I knew if they could paddle, so could I!

“The doctor on the voyage told me to wait until I knew what type of cancer I had before researching and telling my family and friends. Every tumor has specific treatment options and outcomes. That was good advice.

“My friends took me on a zip line; my primal screams released anger and pain, and I found the strength to navigate my treatments. PT and Monday night survivor talk-story sessions at PCF prepared me to paddle and race again.

“In 2013, more cancer appeared — more operations, more therapy. I survived again! I cannot make a fist, but I can still paddle! This year, I plan to race 26 miles in the Pailolo Challenge.”

Tammy has advice for us: “Follow your passions; don’t let cancer rob your joy. Take on challenges and be bold! Cry or scream as loud as you can if you want to — it’ll clear your head!”

Tammy, standing center, celebrating on a ride with the Renegades of Maui.

Tammy, standing center, celebrating on a ride with the Renegades of Maui.