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A Navy of Women Paddle for Their Lives

dragonboat Until recently, doctors recommended that breast cancer patients should not engage in upper-body activities because they felt it would stimulate or aggravate lymphedema. Dr. Donald McKenzie, Professor and Director of the Division of Sports Medicine at the University of British Columbia, felt differently. He believed that upper body exercise would be beneficial for people who had been treated for breast cancer and launched a project to prove it. In 1996, Dr. McKenzie founded and coached “Abreast in a Boat,” the first breast cancer survivor (BCS) dragon boat team comprised of twenty-four women in Vancouver, British Columbia. Dr. McKenzie’s experiment was a resounding success, and his research, published in 1998 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, showed that paddling a dragon boat benefits breast cancer survivors by providing strenuous upper body activity in an aesthetically-pleasing and socially-supportive environment. Later research examined the psychosocial impact of the sport on women who have been treated for breast cancer, concluding that dragon boating is a vehicle for improving women’s wellness and post-treatment quality of life. Dragon boats have been part of Chinese culture for more than 2,000 years. They were used originally as part of a religious ceremony to appease the rain gods. Today, the sport of dragon boat racing is growing in popularity with people of all ages and backgrounds, and thanks to the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission, there are now more than 140 BCS teams throughout the world. At the end of October, 101 BCS teams and their supporters gathered in Sarasota, Florida for two days of racing and camaraderie. Dr. Susan Love’s keynote address focused on the importance of physical and social activity and quality of life for breast cancer patients. She received a standing ovation from the 3,500 attendees, many of whom had read Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book following their diagnoses and throughout their treatment. She described the latest questionnaire in the Health of Women [HOW] Study™ which tracks quality of life issues amongst people with and without a history of breast cancer, with the goal of documenting the collateral damage that results from breast cancer treatment. Dr. Love invited this strong and passionate Navy of Women to join forces with our Army of Women to participate in breast cancer research that will help end this disease. “This group of women is truly unique,” said Dr. Love. “Their dedication to year-round training and on-the-water exercise clearly has a significant impact on their physical and emotional wellbeing. I am anxious to examine the differences in quality of life between BCS dragon boaters and other survivors through our Health of Women [HOW] Study.” BCS dragon boaters can learn more about the [HOW] Study and the Quality of Life questionnaire here. When registering, please indicate “Dragon boater” when asked how you heard about the [HOW] Study.