Karin Horen was only 26 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. The Auckland woman, who had lost her mother only a year earlier, had to face the challenge of saving her own life.
"I am one of the lucky ones," said the now 40-year-old. "I was one of those women who felt something was wrong and made it to the doctor on time. He said 'you are so young, it's probably nothing'. But an ultrasound showed beyond doubt that it was breast cancer."
From that moment on, Horen entered a new world. For the next year while her friends were out partying she endured the rigours of chemotherapy and radiation.
"I always hoped, and never stopped to ask the question ... Why me? I researched, read, asked questions, admired my scalp and embraced my hair loss, and the fact that I lost almost half of my breast. At the age of 26 when all my girlfriends wore bikinis on the beach and open dresses, I had radiation drawings on my body and went to hospital every couple of weeks for treatment which made me sick as a dog.
"I wanted to continue my life just the way it was, and not stop for a second. That is the way I felt. I was desperate to win."
Horen did win and five years later she got the all-clear. She went for a reconstruction.
"I was quite happy with results and I felt I got my femininity back. Strange how these little things, like 250cc, can rebuild your confidence as a woman. But although my boobs had been reshaped and I had a new lovely, sexy cleavage, in my memories, and my soul there is a scar."
She lives by the mantra of: "Keep healthy. Eat well, live well, exercise, meditate, take good care of your body and soul."
Almost three years ago she was introduced by her partner Manu to Stand Up Paddle boarding.
"The first time I got on a board I could just feel my body floating on the water, relaxed and calm as I paddled away into the ocean. I stood firm and allowed myself to be carried away. It's that kind of sport where you can just drift away, or race like a warrior. I realised what I could get from it, and I have been paddling ever since."
In 2011, she created the Starboard Paddle for Hope. The third annual running, which is on next Saturday, is a fun event - a festival of pink on the water. It is at Auckland Karanga Plaza, outside the Viaduct Events Centre.
Teams of four compete in a relay on the Western Viaduct Basin. All in pink, each team member must complete the 600m course and then pass over their board to a team member.
Horen is working with fellow paddlers Kristin Percy and Victoria Stuart to develop a clinically-endorsed SUP rehabilitation programme for people recovering from breast cancer. Percy is the secretary of NZ Stand Up Paddling Incorporated and a qualified SUP Instructor. She has also used SUP to rehabilitate after breast cancer surgery.
As part of this project, the Paddle For Hope team and NZBCF will fund a clinical study into the physical and psychological benefits of stand up paddle boarding in breast cancer rehabilitation. The aim of the Paddle for Hope is to raise $100,000 for this research and rehab programme.
In April 2007, against the odds, she gave birth to her first baby girl - Huia Maya. In October 2010, she gave birth to her second daughter, Mokoia Ilana, and in January of 2012, she had her third daughter, Pania Jean.
In January 2013 Horen found that three suspicious tumours she could feel in her other breast were malignant. She underwent a skin-sparing mastectomy in March to remove all the breast tissue, then started three months of chemotherapy and surgical reconstruction.
"Is there hope? Of course there is. I pray every day that someone will find a cure for cancer. And that women will not die from this disease anymore."
Starboard Paddle for Hope
When: Saturday, November 2.
Where: Auckland Karanga Plaza outside the Viaduct Events Centre.
Team's event: All dressed in pink, each team member must complete the 600m
course and then pass over their board to their team member.
Prize: Everyone who enters, or donates $25 to the charity, goes into the draw for a trip for two to Hawaii, flying Hawaiian Airlines.
For more information visit: www.paddleforhope.co.nz