LGH volunteer Esther Matsubuchi was a pioneer in dragon boat racing for breast cancer survivors. In the mid-90s, a UBC professor was convinced that women would benefit from strengthening their upper bodies following treatment. She’s been racing ever since. Photo courtesy Dan Toulgoet/Vancouver Courier

Long-time LGH volunteer recipient of 2017 Courage to Come Back Award

For almost 15 years, Esther Matsubuchi has been a chapel volunteer at Lions Gate Hospital. Every Tuesday, Esther and other volunteers assist Evergreen residents and hospital patients who are in wheelchairs to get to and from the LGH Chapel for a weekly service. The group of volunteers often refer to themselves as “pushers.”

Next Tuesday, however, is going to be an extra special day for Esther. She will be at the Vancouver Convention Centre to receive a 2017 Coast Mental Health Courage to Come Back award in the social adversity category for her years as part of the Abreast in a Boat team.

“Despite all she has been through, Esther has fought hard, not just for herself and her family, but for many others who have faced adversity. Esther is a beloved mother of four and grandmother to 8, and was a devoted caregiver to her late husband,” the award organizers said.

Inspiring life story

LGH Spiritual Practitioner Rev. Andres Rebane is beyond delighted for Esther.

“We are very lucky to have a dedicated Spiritual Care volunteer like Esther here at the Lions Gate Hospital,” says Rev.Andres Rebane. “And we are extremely proud that she has been chosen to receive a 2017 Coast Mental Health Courage To Come Back award. Her life story is truly inspiring.”

Esther’s story has garnered some media attention over the last week from News 1130 and the Vancouver Courier. You can read part of the Courier story below.

This dragon’s strength wrapped in gentle spirit

By Martha Perkins/Vancouver Courier

Don’t be deceived by Esther Matsubuchi’s gentle spirit. She has a core of pure strength.

Born in Vancouver, she was five years old when her family was forced out of their home and moved to a Japanese internment camp in the West Kootenays in 1942. With nothing to their name after the Second World War ended, they moved to Ontario’s farm country, working long days for little money.

Japanese-Canadians from Esther Matsubuchi’s Anglican community were sent to the Slocan City internment camp, where David Suzuki also lived. This photo was taken in the winter of 1942 – Library and Archives Canada

She was pregnant with her second daughter when a car accident crushed her skull, lacerated a leg and shattered a femur. She spent the last two months of her pregnancy in the hospital.

She gladly followed her husband’s career in civil engineering around the world, enjoying the adventure of raising four children in places such as Algeria, England and Haida Gwaii.

Diabetic, she’s survived cancer twice. She cared for her late husband Ed during his 15 years of illness, including bladder cancer.

A pioneer in the breast cancer dragon boat community, she was part of a study that proved women would benefit from upper arm exercise after their treatments. Until then, women were told not to move their arms in a repetitive manner, not even to knit.

Read the full Vancouver Courier story here.

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