Warrior Survivors

Breast cancer survivors find healing in the challenges of the road. 

BY KATHY LATOUR
PUBLISHED: FEBRUARY 18, 2009
Megan Dwyer, a triathlete from California, and Meredith Campbell, a fundraiser from Brisbane, Australia, should never have met. But a 2002 sailing competition in Sydney, Australia, brought them together, forming a friendship that resulted in a different kind of support for breast cancer survivors.

Dwyer and Campbell both survived breast cancer in their early 30s and agreed that women needed options for healing opportunities that would challenge them to grow while providing a social impact. The result: Amazon Heart.

For the past five years, Amazon Heart has developed adventures for survivors that raise funds and awareness, such as hiking treks and motorcycle trips in California, the United Kingdom, and Australia; and social impact projects, such as constructing cottages for orphans in India. Providing experiences that combine a physical or personal challenge and peer support, Dwyer says the programs offer time for self-discovery in an environment where everyone speaks the same language about a shared experience.

Women pay their own expenses and raise at least $1,500 to either pay for the project or to support other organizations assisting young survivors. Campbell provides each woman fundraising templates and event ideas, saying that women often tell their stories for the first time during fundraising efforts.

In designing Amazon Heart, the women turned, in part, to Campbell’s sister, Suzanne Chambers (Steginga), PhD, the director of research at the Cancer Council Queensland, who started the first support group for young breast cancer survivors in Australia. Her research confirmed what Dwyer and Campbell felt: Young survivors feel isolated, and their needs may not be met by traditional support services.

Chambers studied 21 women taking part in a 2005 Amazon Heart motorcycle ride and found that “adventure events where women undertake emotional and physical challenge in an environment of group peer support provide opportunity for personal growth.” The findings will join the growing number of studies on post-traumatic growth when it appears later this year in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology.

“It is the combination of a physical challenge in strong peer support that leads to the possibility of transformational change,” Chambers says.

Since 2004, 109 women have taken part in the Amazon Heart motorcycle excursions in partnership with Harley-Davidson Motor Company in the United States, Harley-Davidson Australia, and Harley-Davidson U.K., which make motorcycles available for the rides in each respective country.

Leslie Prevish, women’s outreach manager for Harley-­Davidson Motor Company, says when Dwyer and Campbell initially approached her, she thought it sounded like an amazing idea.

“Harley-Davidson was excited to support this event where the women come together and celebrate surviving and the freedom of the open road to celebrate life,” says Prevish, adding that the company provides each rider a Harley-Davidson jacket to keep.

These were women who I had never met who were saying the same things I had said and felt. I could see myself with them. 

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