Breast Cancer Connection

What is the connection between dragon boats and breast cancer survivors?

Twenty years ago, women who had breast cancer surgery were often told to be careful while being physically active to avoid lymphedema (chronic swelling of the arm).

In 1996, Canadian doctor and professor, Don McKenzie, decided to test this advice by forming the first breast cancer survivors’ dragon boat crew. He believed the teamwork could provide emotional support while the upper body exercise would help prevent lymphedema. McKenzie was proven correct. None of the women in the study developed lymphedema, all experienced greater health and well-being, and those who had lymphedema when the study began found their symptoms had improved.

As news of McKenzie’s findings spread, women living with breast cancer, as well as those who support them, began forming dragon boat crews. The movement has helped propel dragon boat racing into one of the world’s fastest-growing water sports.

About 150 breast cancer teams race in other parts of the world. Closer to home, there are teams in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, including teams from Mayo Clinic Rochester and Arizona. Throughout the year, dragon boat teams get together to compete in local and national races.

Dragon boating has become a popular way for breast cancer survivors to stay active and connect with others. The Big Blue Dragon Boat Festival will include a survivor recognition ceremony where all survivors, regardless of whether they are paddling, are invited to participate.