NORTH VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Behind her warm smile is an incredible story of perseverance and survival. Our series of Courage To Come Back profiles concludes with a look at the recipient of the award for Social Adversity.
Esther Matsubuchi, like so many of her generation, grew up around the pain of the Japanese internment camps of World War II. “I was only five, I think, so I don’t remember much,” she admits. Thousands of Japanese-Canadians were stripped of their possessions and sent away because Canada was at war with the country of their ancestors. “We lived here and then we were loaded up in a train, I think, and we went to Slocan,” she recalls.
Later, as a new mom, she was in a major car crash that saw her spend the last eight weeks of her second pregnancy in a hospital bed. “A big Buick came sliding down on our side of the road and hit us head on,” she remembers.
Years later, and now the matriarch to a family of six, she learned nearly too late she had advanced stage breast cancer. She and a group of women set out to prove a point: that one could survive the disease and still lead a full life. They did this by taking to the water as dragon boaters. In fact, her group was the first and helped start a global movement. “Worldwide we have over 200 teams, which is really something, because it all started here, in BC. That was about 22 seasons ago and I’m still going,” she says. At 80-years young, she admits it’s not easy as it used to be. “The paddling is good and the technique seems to change every year,” she says. “But it’s getting into the boat and back out which is the hardest!”
Esther has also advocated for survivors of sexual abuse. The only sister to five boys, she learned four of them had been abused by a local Anglican priest. Her willingness to speak out helped expose a cover-up lasting decades. “And my brother, who is 85 this month, he only told his wife about it three years ago.”
She is humble about her story and sees herself as being just like any other person, but will allow this bit of life advice: “Just forget the bad parts and keep going and something good will come out of it eventually,” she explains. “Just carry on and stay healthy.”