You know that sad, “poor you” face people give when you tell them you’re a breast cancer survivor? The one you just can’t escape no matter how many years of survivorship you rack up or how beautifully your hair comes in after your encounter with chemopalooza?
I found an antidote for that in Save Our Sisters (SOS), Miami’s first dragon boat racing team made up exclusively of breast cancer survivors.
Once I tell people I’m a member of this crew team, their expression changes. They smile and ask me how I got involved in the sport. Sometimes they look me up and down LOL! No, not in a rude way. It just dawns on them that I’ve moved on with life. Which of course I have, and Save Our Sisters has a lot to do with that.
SOS is part sports team, part support group, part sorority. The fact that it exists is an accomplishment. It says we’re “normal.” We’re physically active. And we’re going about our business enjoying life.
All those happy feelings aside, let’s be frank – this is a club no one wanted to be a member of. Hello, the only way in is a breast cancer diagnosis! Given the choice, I would have gladly traded that shocking news 11 years ago for any other club membership – like the UM Alumni Association or the Christian Louboutin Shoe-of-the-Month Club.
But the universe had a different plan for me. And after four years of paddling, laughing, talking and hugging, I don’t think I would trade this adventure for all the tea in China. Which, by the way, is where dragon boating originated more than 2,000 years ago.
In China, the dragon is a symbol of strength and unity.A fitting description for a dragon boat team, because the sport is hard on the body and crew members must paddle in sync to make the boat glide through the water. That’s part of what makes being on a survivor team so sweet. Despite everything we’ve been through physically and emotionally, we’re pushing our bodies to accomplish things we didn’t think possible. A little challenging for a group as diverse as ours.
There’s the baby of the team, a 39-year-old grant development director; a 46-year-old stay-at-home mom with back issues; a 54-year-old estate and guardianship attorney with tachycardia; and a 73-year-old jewelry designer and teacher. Nope, that’s not a typo. My oldest teammate is 73 years young.
We’ve come a long way since a young go-getter named Austin Gaines founded the team in 2007 as a tribute to his mom, Dr. Joan Gaines, who had been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Today we have a roster of nearly 50 women and we compete regionally, nationally and even internationally with other breast cancer survivor teams and non-cancer crews.
I love that competition! Did I mention that? But one of the most important roles we fill is not in the boat. It’s in the community.
We visit schools and local businesses to promote breast health and the importance of early detection. And we assist in providing breast cancer screenings and treatments to underprivileged women, which is one reason we raise money through events and other initiatives.
But one of my favorite things about my team is that we mentor women newly diagnosed with breast cancer and serve as role models to help them see the possibilities that await them after treatment. For me it’s a special way to pay it forward in gratitude for all the support I had on my journey to remission.
So next time you’re on the Rickenbacker Causeway and you see the pink dragon boat gliding through the water, you’ll know who we are: a sisterhood of pink warriors who have smacked cancer across the head and are celebrating life among the waves.
Breast cancer brought us together, but it’s the camaraderie we share and our thirst for a long, healthy life that keeps us united.
Martha, 11-year breast cancer survivor
Martha lives her life in tune with one of her favorite quotes, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” As a member of Miami’s breast cancer survivor dragon boat racing team, Save Our Sisters, she enjoys the camaraderie of paddling with a new breed of survivor; groundbreaking women who don’t let breast cancer dictate their every move. That philosophy has seen her through years of surgeries, debilitating treatments, and two breast cancer diagnoses. It’s a journey that has made her very appreciative of life, her family and her many friends. A Miami native, she enjoys traveling, food & wine, cheering on the Miami Heat basketball team and shoe shopping. Professionally, she produces events for Baptist Health South Florida and previously worked in special events and public relations for luxury department stores. (Martha is on the right).
As a part of our mission to make The Journey a powerful voice for everyone in our community, we invite each of you to consider joining the conversation and sharing your journey with comments and feedback. You don’t have to be a breast cancer survivor, you can be a caregiver, or a friend, or a concerned citizen. What we are looking for is meaningful and helpful conversations that will encourage other people as they travel along their journey. Sharing is caring and very cathartic. I sincerely urge you to take part.