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Crossing the finish line

CHERYL TEVIS 01/09/2013 @ 10:35am

Other women can be a great source of support in achieving balance, especially when life throws you a curve ball.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. More than 207,000 women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2010.

The book Marginal by Susie Werle Larkin is a collection of first-person fictional narratives that follows members of a weekly breast cancer support group. They express their struggles, explore their emotions, reveal their souls, describe their past decisions, and clear their consciences.

"Many women receive strong support following their initial diagnoses of and treatment for cancer, but then social support can wane," says Ann Bettencourt, University of Missouri professor of psychological science.

"Our findings suggest that both single women and mothers with children in the in the home may need additional support across the entire year following breast cancer diagnosis and treatment," she says.

One of the most visually powerful demonstrations of breast cancer survivors supporting one another began in 1996, when Don McKenzie, a sports medicine physician at the University of British Columbia, encouraged 25 women to form a dragon boat racing team.

McKenzie's research had revealed that rowing a boat offers beneficial upper body exercise after breast cancer surgery. Women who have had lumpectomies or mastectomies may suffer from lymphedema, a build-up of fluid from trauma to the lymph system.

Dragon boat racing began more than 2,000 years ago in China. Today, there are more than 150 breast cancer survivor dragon boat racing teams in the world. Vancouver's RioTinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival, to be held June 21-23, 2013, is one of the largest in the world.

The Indianapolis team, called the Indy SurviveOars (pictured above), is believed to be the fiftieth breast cancer survivor team in the U.S. Purdue University health and exercise psychology professor Meghan McDonough has followed about 30 survivors who are part of this dragon boat racing team.

"These breast cancer survivors are literally all in the same boat together," McDonough says.

She found that social relationships on these racing teams play a big part in psychological outcomes, specifically quality-of-life issues, including social support, managing stress, and positive psychological growth. The camaraderie helps improve women's confidence and self-esteem.

"What I've seen from these women is that it's not just about getting back to where they were. This activity is helping them to grow," McDonough says.

Dual impact of exercise

Visit http://breastcancerdvd.org/ to read about an excellent DVD called The Path of Wellness and Healing. It features what women need to know when they're diagnosed with breast cancer as well as how to evaluate treatment options. The DVD features medical doctor Susan Love, prominent researchers, and breast cancer survivors.

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