What did you do for Independence Day this year? Watch fireworks? Grill burgers? Travel to Italy to compete in an international dragon boat race?
For thousands of breast cancer survivors around the world, July meant traveling to Florence to participate in the International Breast Cancer Paddler’s Commission’s dragon boat races, where 121 teams from 18 countries came together for two days of racing and celebration. All told, over 4,000 people gathered to support, cheer on, or remember someone with breast cancer.
The event has happened every four years since 2005 and creates a global camaraderie unlike anything most of the women have seen before.
“It was most remarkable moments of my life. Looking around and seeing all these strong women from countries around the world unite and the camaraderie they shared,” said Cathie Harper, who lost her sister to breast cancer in 2005.
Dragon boating not only gives women a chance for an outdoorsy version of post-operative rehabilitation and exercise, but it gives them a challenge that they can master and a chance to be an essential part of a team. On a dragon boat, each position is vital. Everyone must work in unison or the boat will go astray.
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Participating women say that dragon boating helps them build strength and deal with scar-tissue issues, but also to do something that they never thought they’d do—especially after a breast cancer diagnosis.
“It’s certainly beyond my wildest dreams and isn’t something I would have ever seen myself doing,” said Beth Demizio, who competed in the races this year. Beth’s team, the Wonder Women, placed first in their final race. But the real victory was being able to be there at all.
The event commemorates the journey that so many women and men have taken, and it honors those who have lost their lives to breast cancer with a carnation ceremony. For the participants, it’s an a chance to embrace life and connect deeply with others who have lived through cancer, both those in the boat next to them and those in the same boat, so to speak, all over the world.