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Crossing the finish line

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.

As the DVD acknowledges, proper medical treatment is only
one component of the breast cancer journey. Just as important are strategies to
help women cope with stress and anxiety, and to engage in immunity-boosting
exercise, nutrition, meditation, and spiritual practice.

Regardless of whether you ever become part of a dragon boat
racing team, a regimen of regular extensive upper-body exercises increases
flexibility, aerobic capacity, and upper-body strength.

Exercising lifts mood

Depression is a factor that complicates the success of
breast cancer treatments. But studies show that improved self-esteem is a key
psychological benefit of regular physical activity and helps ward off depression.
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These
endorphins interact with receptors in the brain that reduce the perception of
pain.

Research indicates that any form of physical exercise can
reduce depression: biking, dancing, gardening, housework, jogging, low-impact
aerobics, swimming, yard work, yoga, and walking.

Strong social support is an important factor in avoiding
depression, and joining an exercise class may be beneficial. If you haven't
exercised in a while, are over age 50, or have a chronic medical condition,
consult with your physician before beginning any vigorous physical exercises. 

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