Regular exercise and bonding with teammates can help breast cancer patients cope with radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
Breast cancer survivors find renewal with Dubai Sea Dragons
DUBAI // For Connie Adams, joining the all-women Dubai Sea Dragons three years ago was the best decision she had made since she moved from Scotland in 2006.
As she recovered from breast cancer, the camaraderie, team spirit and competition of dragon boat racing gave her a vital boost - as it has also done for many others in her situation.
"I was at the end of my tether because I hadn't found my niche here," said Mrs Adams, 55, who teaches English at a language school. "Then I went for a dragon-boat meeting and immediately felt that this was me.
"When I started paddling I wasn't fit because I'd had radiotherapy. I was lucky because the cancer hadn't spread, but I felt as if I couldn't move; everything seemed to be a big effort.
"I was a beginner but there is nothing like that feeling when you're out there on the boat powering through the water."
The Sea Dragons, along with the support group Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP), have organised paddling days for today and Saturday to raise awareness of breast cancer. Details are online at dubaiseadragons.net.
"We know what it's like when you land in a new place and we welcome newcomers," Mrs Adams said.
"It's great exercise and fun too. We have some laughs and if you want a moan you can have that too."
While only a handful of paddlers in the team have battled breast cancer, their example motivates the group.
"The strength of these women is fantastic," said Helen Schrader, who joined in February and volunteers with the Pink Caravan campaign, part of FOCP's awareness drive.
"Paddling is empowering. It gives women the strength they need, they are happy and in charge of their body."
Several studies have shown exercise as an effective therapy that improves the attitudes of cancer patients.
Research in 2007 at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada showed that breast cancer survivors who regularly exercised with a dragon boat team suffered significantly less post-traumatic stress than other women who had suffered breast cancer.
"Exercising the hands vigorously helps to increase lymphatic circulation so these women won't have the swollen arms that women usually have after breast surgery," said Dr Sawsan Al Madhi, the FOCP secretary general.
"Through these clubs' information, side effects of treatment can be shared and someone who just got the diagnosis can bond with a survivor," she said.
"When she sees a survivor living her life to the fullest, this living example creates a much bigger impact than any advice a doctor can give in any hospital."
For a listing of Breast Cancer Awareness Month events, please go to bit.ly/bcamevents