LSM Insurance Independent Broker, Beirong Xiong has learned to take the good with the bad when life’s surprises come knocking at her door. After finishing her Master’s in Agricultural Economics and Business at the University of Guelph Beirong moved to Ottawa to pursue a career in financial services. It was on a daily elevator ride that she met her future husband for the first time. “Something as random as that changed my life for the better,” she says. “Six years later David proposed to me in that same elevator, on my birthday.”
As her big day approached, another life-changing event, this one in the form of a critical illness, shattered her happiness. “The night before a routine mammogram I felt a small lump that wasn’t there before,” recalls Beirong. “When the test came back negative, I remembered a friend who told me from her own experience with breast cancer, if you discover something that doesn’t feel right to you don’t be afraid to ask for the next test.
Follow up tests showed a malignant tumor. “My first instinct was to rush to the office to check the details of my critical illness coverage. Whatever my prognosis, I knew I’d be off work for months and bills would pile up. To my relief I was covered and a cheque from the insurance company arrived just a few weeks later.”
“If I hadn’t insisted on further tests, it may have been another year before anything was detected,” says Beirong. “Early diagnosis is the key. Listen to yourself. Be brave.”
On the first-year anniversary of her diagnosis, another test result showed the cancer spreading to Beirong’s lungs. Unwilling to wait for further tests Beirong and David drove to Montreal for a costly PET scan. “In just three days I learned there was no cancer. It was a false alarm. Again, my critical illness benefit had made another unexpected expense easier to bear.”
“Facing death made me rethink my life,” says Beirong. While going through treatment and recovery, she began to rearrange her priorities, slowing down to experience her life more fully. This change in attitude set Beirong on a path to realize a dream far greater than herself.
Through Breast Cancer Action Ottawa, an organization which offers emotional and physical support to breast cancer patients, Beirong discovered the breast cancer survivor’s dragon boat team Busting Out. “My first time in the boat, it was incredible to feel the power, energy and support from the team, from the dragon,” says Beirong. She looked to the women around her for support and inspiration, a theme that would shape many of the decisions she would make. “Though I’d always been athletic, I had gained thirty pounds after my cancer treatment. I didn’t look like myself. I felt fatigued and depressed. Seeing other women in my situation paddle together helped me to visualize a new self-image.”
As Beirong’s dragon boating ambitions grew, so did the goals she set for herself. New role models inspired her, and she picked up the mantle for those who passed on. One special mentor with late stage cancer pushed Beirong to join Team Canada. “I didn’t think I had a chance to make the team,” she recalls, “but I pushed myself to get my body into shape. I eventually earned a spot on the boat. When our team won gold in the 2000 meter race in Hungary that season, I could not stop crying holding that medal on the podium, thinking of my mentor, knowing we did it together.”
Beirong has assembled an impressive dragon boating resume, but her current goal really connects all the threads of her story. “She is lighting a trail for thousands of women to follow,” said David. “In my Chinese community, I was in the closet for 10 years, afraid to share my diagnosis. I wanted to break my silence and show women the strength they can find within themselves.”
Beirong went public for the first time when a journalist interviewed her at the opening ceremonies of a competition in Kunming, China. “I spoke about my diagnosis and what I was able to achieve afterwards through dragon boating.”
Despite relatively high breast cancer rates Beirong has not seen teams from mainland China participate at any of the international gatherings of survivors she has attended. “My goal is to change that,” she says, “to bring a Chinese breast cancer survivor team to compete in the next World Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Championships in New Zealand in 2022.
By sharing her story, Beirong is inspiring a different vision for women on what it means to be a survivor. Her story is spreading across the Chinese diaspora through social media platforms like WeChat. “If you have a dream, share that dream with everyone,” says Beirong. “Be ready for those unexpected trials that knock on your door with a healthy lifestyle of exercise, diet and reduced stress, and insurance to cushion the financial burden of recovery.
You can contact Beirong by
Wechat ID: xiongbeirong