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Breast Cancer Survivor Paddler Day teaches benefits of dragon boating

Sport helps rebuild upper body strength, prevents lymphedema

By , Columbian staff writer
Published: October 17, 2019, 9:31pm
6 Photos
Paula Zellers, left, and Laura Thornquist row at the front of their team's dragon boat on Vancouver Lake. Their team, Catch-22, which is coed and has about 75 members, features close to a dozen people diagnosed with breast cancer. Zellers and Thornquist are two of those people. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian)
Paula Zellers, left, and Laura Thornquist row at the front of their team's dragon boat on Vancouver Lake. Their team, Catch-22, which is coed and has about 75 members, features close to a dozen people diagnosed with breast cancer. Zellers and Thornquist are two of those people. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When Laura Thornquist was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, it was a shock because of how fit she was.

“I lived a healthy lifestyle,” said Thornquist, a 55-year-old Woodland resident who works in Vancouver. “I had no breast cancer in my family, so I was in disbelief, and then I got really angry about it. I went through a few months of being just angry. Then when I started feeling better, and getting back in the swing of things, I was just looking for an avenue to get back in there and reclaim my life again.”

That avenue came in the form of dragon boat racing. Thornquist started dragon boat racing in Portland. Now, about a decade later, she’s part of a Vancouver team called Catch-22 that has about 75 members made up of men and women and features close to a dozen people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

If You Go

What: Breast Cancer Survivor Paddler Day. Land activities will be held if the weather is bad. A local oncologist and others will speak about the benefits of dragon boating for breast cancer survivors. You can also dragon boat on the water, weather permitting.

When: 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Vancouver Lake Aquatic Center, 612 N.W. Erwin O. Reiger Memorial Highway, Vancouver. The center is south of Vancouver Lake Regional Park, on the west side of the lake.

Web: https://www.facebook.com/events/2480278705385284/

Contact: Catch22dragonboating@gmail.com

Thornquist explained dragon boating’s upper body movement helps prevent lymphedema — swelling that happens in arms or legs — and is commonly caused by damage or removal of lymph nodes as part of cancer treatment.

“Breast cancer survivors are drawn to this sport because it’s so good for your physical recovery from breast cancer. It gets your upper mobility back in your arms,” she said. “It’s also great for your competitive spirit. When you’re paddling, you can’t worry about anything. You can’t do anything. If you want to dragon boat paddle and do it well, you have to focus on that and be in the moment. You’re out in nature, enjoying the water, fresh air and good company.”

Paula Zellers, a 78-year-old Vancouver resident, had a different reaction to her breast cancer diagnosis, she said. Zellers has a history of breast cancer in her family, and wasn’t particularly surprised when she was diagnosed in 1998. But she had just moved to the area, and had only one friend nearby.

Breast Cancer Awareness

Each year, more than 200,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer, including thousands of women in Washington. In honor of their fight — and as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month — The Columbian published this collection of stories about the women who have received breast cancer diagnoses, the science and technological advances for treating them and the community that supports them.

Read more

Zellers was told she should join a breast cancer support group after her diagnosis, so she did. Two support group members told her she should join their dragon boat team, but she didn’t know what dragon boating was and held off for a year before joining the team.

Zellers and Thornquist said Catch-22 has become a community for them, something discovered through their recovery from cancer.

“Every stroke counts. Everything you do matters because you’re part of a team,” Zellers said. “For a lot of us, we’ve not been part of a team quite like this.”

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