Exercise promotes recovery after treatment for a cancer diagnosis.
Research suggests regular exercise also may help prevent recurrence of cancer for people in remission.
Breast cancer surgery often includes removal of cancerous lymph nodes under the arm which normally drain the lymphatic system. This can lead to the build up of fluids in the tissues of the arms which leads to uncomfortable swelling and possibly tissue infection. Dragon boat paddling includes upper body exercise which has been shown to reduce or limit lymphodema in the arm which may arise from breast cancer surgery.
In 1996. Dr. Don McKenzie, a Professor in the Department of Sports Medicine and exercise physiologist, challenged the prevailing medical thinking that women treated for breast cancer should avoid rigorous upper body exercise for fear of developing lymphedema, a debilitating and chronic side effect of treatment.
He developed a program to determine the impact of exercise on breast cancer survivors, choosing dragon boat paddling as the epitome of strenuous, repetitive upper body exercise. He trained twenty-four breast cancer volunteers in a gym for three months, introduced them to dragon boats and taught them paddling techniques. At the end of the three-month season on the water none of the volunteers had lymphedema.
While Dr. McKenzie’s medical experiment/project was underway, the women found they were fitter, healthier and happier. They loved the camaraderie and support of their fellow paddlers and had regained control of their lives. They realized that dragon boat paddling could become a means to raise awareness of breast cancer and of the ability of survivors to lead normal lives. They named their team ‘Abreast In A Boat’ and invited other survivors to share their exciting experience.
Over the years, the movement progressed to other areas in Canada and was introduced to other countries by breast cancer survivors who saw the benefits. These inspirational individuals started communicating across the miles, providing much support and encouragement to see other survivors reap the benefit of dragon boating and the health and fitness benefits it provided. Special mention should be made also to the amazing awareness made to the public on breast cancer.