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Dragon Boat Racing: Breast Cancer Survivors Paddle to Wellness

Dr Meng Chatswood dentist, wears her costume with pride at the 2018 Dragon Boat Festival for breast cancer survivors

Dr Meng and her Sydney teammates wear their costumes with pride. The parade for the 2018 Dragon Boat Festival in Florence passed over the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in the city.

Recently, I had the honour of competing in the IBCPC Dragon Boat Festival in Florence, Italy. This international event takes place every four years under the auspices of the International Breast Cancer Paddler’s Commission (IBCPC). According to the event’s website, “The Festival is an international non-competitive participatory event targeting Breast Cancer Survivors teams who engage in Dragon Boat activities as post-operative rehabilitation.”

As a 10-year breast cancer survivor, it was particularly important for me to go to the event which was held in early July. Before I became involved in Dragon Boat Racing, I had never participated in solo or team sports or been in a competition at any level.

I now belong to Dragons Abreast Sydney (DAS), which was officially formed in 2003. Not only is our organisation spreading the message about breast cancer awareness through the demanding sport of dragon boat racing, but we’re building fantastic camaraderie.

A Sea of Teams Competing

An incredible 120 teams from across the globe came to Florence to compete in the event. The day of the opening ceremonies our team walked across the Ponte Vecchio dressed as surf lifesavers. We chose that costume because it represented Sydney as surf lifesaving is such an important part of our lives here. Across the front of our shirts we had DAS Rescue emblazoned. It has a double meaning as we’re rescuing breast cancer survivors through dragon boat racing.

Out of the four races our team competed in, we won one and came in second in the other. Overall, we placed in the top third of all teams, in terms of time to finish the race. We had an amazing experience. It was truly inspiring to compete alongside all these other breast cancer survivors, listen to their experiences and hear how far they’ve come.

Why Dragon Boat Racing?

In 1996, Dr Don McKenzie, a Canadian physician, initiated a study in which a group of breast cancer survivors paddled dragon boats to challenge the belief that they should refrain from participating in vigorous upper body exercise out of concern for developing lymphedema, a debilitating type of swelling that’s often a side effect of treatment.

Dr McKenzie believed that those who had breast cancer operations would benefit from regular exercise. He found that women who participated in dragon boating racing were healthier, reporting improvements in their physical, social and emotional wellbeing.

Dr Meng, dentist in Chatswood with her participatory medal from the Florence Festival.

Dr Meng back home at Boutique Dental Care with her participatory medal from the Florence Festival.


Adopting a Wellness Outlook

Since I started dragon boat racing, I’ve become a healthier person. Not only does dragon boat racing strengthen the shoulder and arm muscles, but it has great cardio benefits. It turned my life around in the sense that I’m focused on wellness now—physical, mental and spiritual. I carry that focus through the practice and try to help our patients maintain a wellness mindset.

- Dr Meng Quah-Shepherd reporting on her recent trip to Florence with her fellow Dragons Abreast Sydney, teammates

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