As Fern White navigates the Folly River in her kayak, each stroke has a purpose. The briny water barely ripples when her paddle breaks the still surface. All the while, some of the students around her thrash and splash in a less organized manner.

Her technique is so refined, it matters not whether she’s against the tide or with it.

White, 62, of West Ashley loves the outdoors and has reason to embrace life even more after beating breast cancer.

Just 2 years ago, she, too, was floundering in some uncertain waters. But now, she and her husband, Don, are living life to its fullest even though she was forced to become “... a member of a club nobody wants to join.”

Why me, Lord?

In 2001, doctors discovered a brain tumor in Fern White. Surgery and radiation was needed. Ten years later during an annual check-up while living in North Carolina, it was revealed she had breast cancer.

The good news was that it was caught before it spread. But she still needed surgery and that meant a double mastectomy. Hours after surgery, horrific pain from internal bleeding required additional attention.

During recovery, Fern constantly thought about getting back in her kayak and regaining her full range of motion. During rehab, the focus on the suggested exercises dealt with benchmarks for strength and endurance.

Three months after surgery, she climbed into her kayak surrounded by a multitude of questions and supportive friends.

Could she still perform a roll? Would those chest muscles be strong enough to take her into murky waters and bring her out on the other side?

She wasted no time is seeking the answers. It was her own personal test to see if she could return to her “normal” life.

As she took a deep breath and rolled into the water, those who watched held their breath as well. Moments later, she resurfaced with a huge smile and to applause.

At that moment, she knew her life had changed. There were renewed feelings of awareness and compassion.

One out of eight women will get breast cancer. October is the month where we are most aware of that fact.

For Fern White, though, she’s a bit weary of the marketing.

It seems that some breast cancer survivors are turned off when they see pink M&M’s or NFL players wearing pink sweat bands.

And some may wonder if the message of prevention is somehow lost in the marketing of awareness.

Fern’s not a crusader, but says she does think the pink movement started with good intentions only to lose its way.

Maybe those like Fern, with terrific navigational instincts and life experience, will help that message regain its course.

Deep and wide

Fern White does not see herself at the forefront of any movement. She has led a couple of fundraising paddles in the Folly River to help others battling breast cancer.

She’s quick to note, though, that being a survivor does not consume her. She wants to live her life fully and let others who face the same challenges know they can survive, as well.

Paddling against the tide has never concerned Fern. Her technique and resolve is far superior to any unseen current or conditions.

Some women probably feel extra pressure to put on a brave face when a breast cancer diagnosis comes their way. Maybe Fern’s way is the best way.

As you step into those unknown waters, grab a paddle knowing many others have been in the same boat and come out on the other side.

That’s a very healthy approach, no matter what color ribbon you wrap around it.

Reach Warren Peper at or 937-5577.