Four breast cancer survivors from the Kiama region recently participated in the International Breast Cancer Survivor Dragon Boat Festival, held on the Arno River in Florence.
Ann Boulton, Helena Deacon, Heather McAlpine and Jacqueline Sloan, all members of the Illawarra Dragon Boating Club, joined the Dragons Abreast Team Hope Australia for two days of paddling.
The festival was the largest ever female only sporting event in the world, with over 3500 breast cancer survivors from 29 countries attending.
Jackie Sloan, who works as a doctor in Gerringong, says she feels very privileged to have been there.
“It was an absolutely wonderful experience: right from the opening ceremony, the racing, the camaraderie between women who have all shared a similar journey, and especially the closing ceremony, where we remembered those who are no longer with us in a beautiful flowers on the water ceremony. It was a very special experience”.
Why dragon boats? It was only as recently as 1996, that a Canadian doctor, Don McKenzie, ran a clinical trial putting 24 women into a dragon boat to prove that exercise was beneficial after breast cancer surgery.
Until then it was commonly advised not to exercise after breast cancer surgery for fear of causing lymphoedema.
“I started dragon boating when I was first diagnosed in 2005 and going through chemotherapy,” says Jackie.
“Not only did exercise help my recovery, but the women I met were fantastic role models and such a positive support to me, they knew exactly what I was going through. I had such hope being surrounded by cancer survivors of many years”.
Heather McAlpine agrees. “By defying the long held myth of breast cancer making women fragile and exercise avoidant, it has made athletes out of many women and strengthened our spirit to live positively.”