13 October 2023

Breast cancer survivors all fired up to support each other

| Sally Hopman
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Dragon boat

Members of Dragons Abreast Canberra take to the waters of Lake Burley Griffin. Breast cancer survivors are invited to their Come and Try Day on 21 October. Photo: Supplied.

When you’re out on the water with a boatload of women who have all been through what you have been through, the last thing on your mind, according to April Weiss, is breast cancer – despite the fact this is what brought these women together.

Dr Weiss, a breast cancer survivor, is one of a growing group of Canberra women, Dragons Abreast Canberra, who have taken to the water, via dragon boats, to celebrate life. “It’s all about empowerment,” Dr Weiss said.

Women who have been newly diagnosed with, are being treated for or have survived cancer, get together regularly and take to the water for not only healthy exercise – but for most, spiritual wellbeing.

For April Weiss, an associate director in the IT department of the Australian National University, the journey began in 2017 when she went in for a routine mammogram.

“I felt that something was not quite right,” she said. “I felt a lump but it was not the typical sort of shape, it was like a starfish. The mammogram showed it was breast cancer.

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“They did a biopsy and I ended up having a lumpectomy. But enough of the cancer had spread so I had to have six months of chemo and then sessions of radiation treatment. It was pretty gruelling but I’m doing well now.”

It was while she was in hospital post-surgery that she heard about dragon boat racing. Never one for team sports, she said, it was only when another breast cancer survivor told her of its benefits that she decided to get involved with the Canberra group.

“She told me it was great for rehab and for improving arm movement, so I thought I’d give it a go.

“I wasn’t getting out much, but this got me out of the house. It was a struggle for me to go somewhere like the gym but to go out onto the lake, where you know these women are waiting for you, that’s what gets me out the door.”

Dr Weiss, who moved to Canberra from Canada in 2015, said one of the best things she found with the dragon boating was the camaraderie with other women and the lasting connections she had made.

Woman with oar

Canberra dragon boat enthusiast and breast cancer survivor April Weiss gears up for a paddle on Lake Burley Griffin. Photo: Supplied.

“Our dragon boat family is a diverse group of individuals who understand the unique challenges and triumphs that come with a breast cancer journey,” she said. “Together, we paddle as one, quietly celebrating the spirit of survival and the joy of living life to the fullest.

“If you’re a breast cancer survivor, dragon boating can be an incredible source of physical and emotional healing. It’s an opportunity to reclaim your strength, rediscover your confidence, and create lasting memories with fellow survivors.

“For supporters, it’s a chance to stand by your loved ones, offering unwavering encouragement and sharing in their victories.”

Dragons Abreast Canberra has organised a Come and Try Day from 9 am on Saturday 21 October at Grevillea Park, Barton – look for the pink marquee near the Boathouse restaurant. It will include on-land instruction on paddling technique followed by about 30 minutes of easy paddling and morning tea.

For more information, email comeandtry@gmail.com

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