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Join the breast cancer dragon boat movement

Christine Bailey, a member of the Pink Champagne Dragon Boat team, talks about an activity that’s bringing women with breast cancer together around the world.

The link between dragon boating – an activity that started in China over 2,000 years ago – and breast cancer may not be obvious. But dragon boat teams made up of people who’ve had breast cancer have been growing in popularity since the movement began in Canada in 1996.

Set up to challenge the conventional wisdom that after treatment, women should avoid upper body exercise for fear of developing lymphoedema, the dragon boat movement has since spread internationally.

Now the benefits of physical activity for people with breast cancer are well known, and there’s evidence that regular exercise doesn’t cause or worsen lymphoedema. Today teams from all over the world meet and compete every four years at a festival of dragon boating.

Christine Bailey has been a member of the Pink Champagne Dragon Boat team in Bournemouth since 2009. She’d been diagnosed with breast cancer the year before. ‘I was very depressed and tearful after my treatment,’ she says. ‘I found out about the dragon boat team through the breast care nurses at the hospital, and I’ve never looked back.’

The Pink Champagne Dragon Boat team started in 2008. ‘The name Pink Champagne was chosen as a celebration of life,’ says Christine.

‘We have now about 35 ladies paddling. We paddle every Saturday morning all year round, and Monday evenings in the summer. The ladies range in age from their 30s to our oldest member who is 74. The older ones keep up with the younger ones. Age doesn’t mean anything, we feel 18 again as we paddle our boat.

‘It’s a good way to keep fit and lose weight, but it’s so much more than that. It gives you drive. Working as a team to get the dragon boat through the water is really uplifting. Going down the Christchurch River on a Saturday morning, when everyone else is shopping, really clears your head and makes you feel alive.’

The highlights for Christine are the friendships she’s formed and the excitement of meeting new people.

‘We’re always spreading the word that anyone with breast cancer has a seat on our boat.’

Dragon boating has taken Christine and the Pink Champagne team all over the world, from Dublin and Venice to festivals in Peterborough Canada and Sarasota USA.

‘It’s wonderful meeting people you’d never meet in ordinary life. You may not speak their language but you give them a hug and a kiss. They’re your friends.’


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