One year ago, I had found a 7 ½ cm lump in my right breast. I spent last July 1, having a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. Within two days, we heard the news no one wants to hear. "You have breast cancer" After my treatments progressed from 6 weeks to 18 weeks, followed by reconstruction surgery in April with a bit of a relapse in June, I am still struggling with lymphedema in my right arm, numbness in my chest and arms along with constant aches in my legs.

Let’s focus on the future and the positive. Staying positive on social media is great, but the truth is, like so many survivors I was unprepared for the reality that follows treatment. Many cancer survivors feel as though they are expected to bounce back into “normal” life. The truth is many experience the long-lasting side effects. It’s hard staying positive while feeling isolation from family and friends, financial burden, and constant anxiety that sickness could return. Finishing treatment is just the beginning of the lifestyle adjustments and focuses us to reevaluate priorities that fall into place in post-chemo years.

Enter into my life – Pioneer Valley Rowing Club & the Dragon Rays sisters. Paddling on the Dragon Rays Team is more than getting fit and having fun on the river. I am joined by 40+ breast cancer survivors & supporters. This was the 3rd year of the Dragon Rays and the 1st year of and entire boat competing with all breast cancer survivors. Here is a statement from one of my cancer survivor sisters on her experience.

Hi All! I've been wanting to send a message to you all sharing how much this team means to me, but don't even have the words to describe how I feel about each of you, this team, and how it all has touched me personally!! From when I first began this past January I felt very welcomed and accepted. I felt that the team supported each member and was competitive but only in such a way as everyone wanted to get better and keep improving. I've been on many teams as a kid, throughout high school and college. This team is soo different. Everyone seems to appreciate each other with where they are at and wants to keep doing the best they can! After having breast cancer, surgeries, radiation, etc, I did well throughout because I'm a "fighter" and have felt blessed by what I've received as a result of the cancer. What was lost along the way was me feeling like I could be active and compete again like I did pre- cancer. I was afraid to hurt myself from all the surgeries, etc. I'm scarred from one side to the other at my waist from my reconstruction. Some of you know what I'm talking about. I've gained weight and lost the feeling of really being able to push myself physically. This is all gone now because of all of you and our amazing Dragon Rays team!!!!!

I felt like I could have written this. She summarizes the Dragon Boat Festival held this past weekend on the Connecticut River in Springfield, MA.

“The races were great as we pushed ourselves to keep improving. We laughed and got to know each other better. You all brought tears to my eyes (and I'm not usually a public crier) when I was in the boat with all us survivors and knowing how strong everyone is. I had a few more tears bubble up when we rowed into the dock and the rest of our amazing team had made a human archway! I feel so blessed and honored to call myself a Dragon Ray!!!!! AR

I may not be able to row yet, but the warmth and support is amazing. Being able to participate as the drummer (supporter- cheerleader) allows me to stay focused on the POSITIVE. I may not be the same Cindy as I was one year ago, but at the end of each day I am grateful and blessed. Isn’t that what we all want?

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