Despite my own active lifestyle, in 2012 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was really lucky that is was detected very early when my GP sent me for a mammogram. Following surgery and radiotherapy I was really keen to resume exercise, however even though I found all the Breast Cancer staff really helpful and supportive, giving exercise advice was just not a priority for them and they tended to focus on what you should not do instead of what you can do. There is really strong evidence from the World Cancer Research Fund of the role regular exercise plays in the prevention and reoccurrence of some cancers, breast cancer being one of them. As a Health Promotion Officer, it seemed to me there was a big void in the opportunities for those who have breast cancer to take part in safe, beneficial activity.
A really interesting study by Dr Donald Mackenzie in Canada laments the lack of post treatment exercise for those recovering from breast cancer. The treatment of breast cancer often involves a lumpectomy or mastectomy followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy; this treatment can diminish exercise capacity and reduce range of movement. Dr McKenzie, who set up a breast cancer dragon boat crew in 1996 found that there were many reasons to believe that upper body exercise has a role in recovery from breast cancer and lymphodema (a side effect that causes swelling) because it can improve range of motion and reverse muscle atrophy while exercise stimulates the lymph function.
Whilst I was in the middle of my treatment a breast cancer dragon boat crew called ‘Plurabelle Paddlers’ was featured on the RTE programme Nationwide. Straightaway I got in contact with the captain of the team, and found out that the beginnings of a plan for an Irish boat were being hatched, as the charitable maritime organisation Meithal Mara in Cork had dragon boats and were looking to put them to good use. ARC Cancer Support House got involved and were able to promote this idea to all those who used their services. Prince Clinic, who specialise in physical therapy for lymphodema also got involved and assisted in the marketing and promotion. We formed ourselves into a steering committee, planned a launch and a ‘come and try’ day. Following the successful dragon boat day, there was great interest and feedback and Cork Dragons were formed. The crew embarked on a programme of getting fit with the help of personal fitness trainer Carrie Skinner, who took into account individual fitness levels and the treatment and surgery everyone had been through. We have been back on the water now since March and competed in the Ocean to City Regatta this June. We are very grateful to the Cork Sports Partnership for funding that has enabled us to get helm and paddle training for the crew. Likewise, we’ve been lucky to have our website sponsored by a very talented designer in Skibbereen, Paul Goode, who has also designed our recruitment flyer.
Dragon boating is a team sport that builds harmony and a feeling of togetherness; the boats hold 22 paddlers, a drummer keeping the paddling in time and a helm to steer so it really is a team effort. It is the fastest growing sport in the world, with over 150 active crews worldwide. The International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission is holding a Dragon Boat Festival in Florida in 2014 so that’s a great goal to keep everyone active over the winter months.
The message we need to send to those with a breast cancer diagnosis is that you can lead full, healthy, active lives and we want to reach out to those women and say come and try a new adventure, you won’t regret it.
Shirley O’Shea has worked in the Health Promotion Department, HSE South since 1999. She is a Senior Health Promotion Officer; her role involves the promotion of physical activity and exercise in various settings such as schools, communities and workplaces.
If you want to make a DONATION to the Irish Cancer Society you can CallSave 1850 60 60 60 or visit here.
If you would like to find out more about Cork Dragons you can contact Shirley O’Shea on 0876670857 or Check out our website on www.corkdragons.com or for general physical activity advice got to www.getirelandactive.ie.
Cork Dragons have charitable status and sponsorship and support is needed to develop the team and purchase vital equipment.