Why should Dragon Boaters care about Breast Cancer?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Why is dragon boat often identified with this cancer type? Why should we dragon boaters observe this awareness month and why must we end the apathy?

Knowing the Numbers

According to American Cancer Society, “There is an estimated 1,676,600 new breast cancer cases among women worldwide in 2012. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in both developed and developing countries.” [Cancer.org¹]

“Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000. Breast cancer in men in the United States for 2015 are: About 2,350 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed; About 440 men will die from breast cancer.” [Cancer.org²]

World Health Organization reports: “Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 8.2 million deaths in 2012. The most common causes of cancer death are cancers of: lung (1.59 million deaths); liver (745,000 deaths); stomach (723,000 deaths); colorectal (694,000 deaths); breast (521,000 deaths); oesophageal cancer (400,000 deaths).” [World Health Organization³]

Awaken the Dragon

Birth of Breast Cancer Paddling Movement

It started in 1996 when a Sports Medicine Physician, Dr Donald McKenzie, from the University of British Columbia in Canada discovered that by following a special exercise and training program, women could avoid lymphedema and enjoy active, full lives. The 3-month dragon boat training program was carefully monitored by a sports medicine physician, a physiotherapist and a nurse. Dr McKenzie’s theory was proven correct. No new cases of lymphedema occurred and none of the existing cases became worse. [IBCPC⁴]

It was in that year that Abreast In A Boat was established. Its membership grew and involved more and more breast cancer survivors; and then later on inspired new teams to be formed. Its journey lives on until this day with a mission: “We paddle to raise breast cancer awareness and to demonstrate that women living with breast cancer can lead full and active lives.”

Inclusivity and Participation

The International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission or IBCPC holds a seat in the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) Commission Chair under Protocol, Culture and Heritage Commission (PC&HC). IBCPC governs the BCS Participatory Festivals and the Combined Racers Division in the Club Crew World Championships (CCWC). This division is open for entry for Breast Cancer Survivors Crew (BCS), All Cancer Survivors Crew (ACS), and Paradragons/Adaptive Paddlers Crew (APC).

It is such a comfort and joy to know that these breast cancer survivors are enjoying the sport of dragon boat and while they promote fitness and health benefits of the sport, they also relay a beautiful message of hope for recovery to those who are currently fighting the disease and those who may have just been diagnosed. IBCPC now has over 150 member teams from all over the world with most teams from Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and the United Kingdom.

IBCPC Participatory Dragon Boat Festival

The International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission Participatory Dragon Boat Festival or IBCPC PDBF is being held every three or four years. The first race took place in Vancouver, Canada (2005). The succeeding venues were: Caloundra, Australia (2007), Peterborough, Canada (2010), and Sarasota, Florida, United States (2014). The next event will be held in Florence, Italy. It is scheduled to happen between June and September in 2018.

Awaken the Dragon Sunset

Remembering and Honouring

In our quest to help campaign on the awareness of the disease, we’d also like to embolden everyone, survivors and supporters, to join or support any breast cancer dragon boat team in your area. Let us help one another in promulgating awareness, early detection, prevention as well as the treatment of breast cancer.

This October, as we go to our team practices or for competitions, let us remember our dearest friends, family members and teammates who’ve lost their battle against the disease. It would be good to have a brief moment of silence in the boat and rekindle those days when they were still paddling with us.

To all dragon boaters, please have yourselves checked and encourage everyone to do the same. Yes, this disease is more common to women, yet men can develop breast cancer, too. We are in this battle together.

Are you ready.. Attention! GO GET SCREENED!


¹ “10 Must-Know 2015 Global Cancer Facts.” American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, Inc., 4th February 2015. Web. 28th September 2015.
² “Cancer.” Media Centre. World Health Organization, February 2015. Web. 28th September 2015.
³ “Breast Cancer in Men” Learn About Cancer. American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, Inc., 26th February 2015. Web. 30 September 2015.
⁴ “History of BCS Dragon Boat Paddling” The Origins of Breast Cancer Paddling. International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission, 2008. Web. 28 September 2015.

*Photos used with permission from Liz Oakley, Filmmaker of the Award-winning Documentary, “Awaken the Dragon.” Are you a survivor or do you love someone who is? Share your story of survivorship or of dragon boating HERE.