Pink Dragon Ladies navigate the rough waters of breast cancer treatment

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Pass by the Hillsborough River, near Rick's on the River, and you might see this colorful group of ladies paddling in pink shirts and feathers and following the beat of their own drum.  They call themselves the Pink Dragon Ladies. And they each have a reason for being here.

They are all cancer survivors, pulling through and pushing forward  with a common cause, to compete in dragon boat competitions.

"Our mission statement is sport and support other women with cancer," said Jenny Clarke, who had a double mastectomy after breast cancer. 

Linda Hurtado, a breast cancer survivor herself,  asked Jenny if some people might think breast survivors might not be able to paddle a dragon boat. It might be too tough for them because they have to use a lot of upper-body muscles affected by breast cancer surgery.

"That's a real fear that most, if not all, women have to a certain extent," Jenny replied.  "But the doctor that started the whole idea of breast cancer survivors doing this set out to disprove that, and he's done it quite well. There's over 100 breast cancer teams now."

And Jenny believes the practice and racing helps woman recover.

"One thing I remember strongly is, you have to focus so completely on what you are doing to even approach learning the technique and the form, that your head can't be on the grocery list. It can't be on chemo. Or the test results coming in next week.  None of that."

Dragon Lady President Donna Peays says the support extends outside the water.

"The best part is when there's someone who has already been through this and they can say to you, 'I know what you will be going through' and you can see how well they are doing. When I was going through cancer treatment every day, before my next chemo treatment, the girls would take me out to lunch knowing I would be nauseated after chemo and wouldn't eat well later. And we laughed and had a good time knowing the next day I would have to go through chemo and it wouldn't be so fun."

The group, looking to expand its membership, is adding other activities like Tai Chi -- easier for those still paddling through the rough waters of treatment.

And even after these ladies dock and put their feet back on the shores of reality, they know if their cancer ever comes back, they have a crew waiting to give them a hand, lift them up, hug away the fear, and help them prepare for the challenging next heat.

For more information on the Pink Dragon Ladies go to their Facebook page: