Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer & Dragon Boat Racing

In 1996, Dr. Don C. McKenzie, a sports medicine physician and an exercise physiologist at the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre, University of British Columbia, strove to dispel the myth that women who have undergone breast cancer treatment should refrain from repetitive, upper body exercise for fear of developing chronic lymphedema - a permanent and sometimes incapacitating swelling of the arm and chest area that can develop anytime after lymph node surgery and radiation treatment. Dragon Boat Racing and the Positive Effects on Breast Cancer Survivors In the fall of 1995, Dr. McKenzie was conducting a research project at the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Center, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC. This study looked at the cardiorespiratory fitness levels of two groups of women - one group having been treated for breast cancer and the other group having had no history of breast cancer at all. The breast cancer group had many anecdotal stories about the "don'ts" they had been told after treatment. Most of the advice involved restricting activities of the upper body to avoid the potential problems of lymphedema (a chronic and difficult-to-treat swelling of the limbs). Though well intended, there was no published research to support this information. A desire to return these individuals to an unrestricted, active lifestyle, as well as the lack of scientific proof to the contrary, was the motivation behind Dr. McKenzie's idea to form the first "all breast cancer survivors" dragon boat team (Abreast-In-A-Boat). Dragon boating was chosen as the venue for several reasons. It is a strenuous, repetitive, upper body exercise that increases flexibility, aerobic capacity and strength; it provides an opportunity to work with a large group at one time; it projects a visible, positive message to all people with breast cancer; it is a team sport that builds harmony and a feeling of togetherness; and it is an exhilarating experience that is esthetically pleasing and fun to do. In February 1996, the first team was formed. The only criterion to joining the team was a history of breast cancer. Age, athletic ability and paddling experience were not of concern. Vancouver's Dragon Boat Festival is one of the largest in the world and therefore, would visibly provide an excellent opportunity to reach a large number of people. Paddlers came from all parts of Vancouver and from all walks of life. The training was slow and progressive and included both weight and aerobic exercises. The goal the first year was simply to complete the race course at the Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival. After that first year the sense of accomplishment was enormous. As Dr. McKenzie said prior to the race, "It doesn't matter where they finish in this race, they're already winners." From a medical study involving one boat of 25 women in 1996, the organization has grown tremendously. There are now many BCS teams in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, China, England, Italy, and Poland, with international competitions held every few years in locales around the world. Imagine, if you would, 70 plus boats, each filled with Breast Cancer Survivors only. October 2001, Dr. Don McKenzie receives the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General in Ottawa for helping initiate and develop the program that has benefited hundreds of breast cancer survivors across the world. Note: Although this research study concluded that dragon boating did not cause lymphedema in its volunteer subjects, please ask your treating physician before embarking on this or any other kind of vigorous physical exercise

                                                                                                  Abreast in a Boat - A race against breast cancer