Local breast cancer survivors making their mark on the world

Local breast cancer survivors making their mark on the world
The repetitive motion of paddling physically helps women who have had mastectomies. And being surrounded by other breast cancer survivors helps the women emotionally. (Source: Greg Schapker/WAVE 3 News)
The repetitive motion of paddling physically helps women who have had mastectomies. And being surrounded by other breast cancer survivors helps the women emotionally. (Source: Greg Schapker/WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The Derby City Dragons is a group of women whose bond goes beyond the waters on which they race.

The repetitive motion of paddling physically helps women who have had mastectomies. And being surrounded by other breast cancer survivors helps the women emotionally.

"Not only do we paddle with our arms, but we also use our heads, our legs ... we use everything," Gina Robinson said.

Robinson has been with the team since it started in Louisville in 2013. There are about 30 women on the team. They all demonstrate their strength as they maneuver a 40-foot dragon boat, also showing their courage and confidence taking on new challenges post breast cancer.

"I had a myectomy, and then I had eight rounds of chemo and 33 radiation treatments," Stephanie Anderson said.

Like all the members of the Derby City Dragons, Anderson is a breast cancer survivor.

"We talk about things that would be uncomfortable for a lot of people," she said.

Bonds are formed as the women strive to be in sync. They hit the water with the same strength they say it takes to battle cancer. Paddling also provides physical benefits for those with lymphedema, a swelling condition in the arms or legs.

"This is one of the activities that can really reduce the swelling," Anderson said.

Lymphedema is caused by cancer treatments that remove or damage lymph nodes.

"I feel like we all put 110 percent in and we all got each other's back," Robinson said.

The Derby City Dragons will travel to Italy in July for the International Breast Cancer Participatory Dragonboat Festival. The entire team is practicing on the Ohio River, but 22 members will compete in Florence, Italy.

"You can still live a happy, strong life even following the diagnosis of breast cancer," Dragons founder Carol Challas said.

Five years ago, the team didn't even have a boat. Now, its members are preparing for an international race. They will be among women from all over the world, all connected by one experience.

"You are in a boat literally and figuratively with people that have had the same experiences or similar experience with being diagnosed with breast cancer," Challas said.

The team encourages new members to join, and reminds those who have not been diagnosed to be vigilant with screenings.

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