Vegas Strong in the Fight Against Breast Cancer
This is my survivor story and how my dragon boat involvement continues to help me get through my breast cancer journey.
BY Patti Kellerhouse
PUBLISHED September 06, 2018
The aftermath of the Oct. 1 atrocities in Las Vegas led to a united front which spread like wildfire throughout the city. After the shootings, the Vegas Golden Nights led the front, exciting their fans with making the Stanley Cup finals healing the wounds and making “Vegas Strong.” This year the Vegas/Henderson community will continue with efforts to help those affected by breast cancer with an event called the Rose Regatta Festival, held at Lake Las Vegas each October during breast cancer awareness month. This is my survivor story and how my dragon boat involvement continues to help me get through my breast cancer journey.
Shortly after moving from New Jersey to Nevada, I joined up with a women’s breast cancer survivor dragon boat team called the Pink Paddlers. Having no idea what a dragon boat was, I was intrigued to lean more. I had no idea how this would impact my life. It led to meeting the most remarkable and strong women, leading to friendships with a bond like no other, as we are all in the same boat! We call our practices a floating support group, and they are a great place to vent, laugh, cuss, exercise and just leave it all on the water!
Each year a festival is held at the lake where we practice. The 10th Annual Red Rose Festival will be held on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018 at Lake Las Vegas in Henderson, NV and will feature a variety of dragon boat race categories for teams of all ages and abilities.
Dragon boat racing is an ancient Chinese tradition that has become one of the world’s fastest growing recreational water sports. Dragon boats are 40 – 50 feet long flatwater racing canoes decorated with Chinese designs and propelled by a crew of 20 paddlers.
In the late 90s, Don McKenzie an exercise physiologist from Canada, changed the way breast cancer patients are treated post-surgery by introducing dragon boating as a recovery program. Survivors benefit from the exercise in many ways, but a main benefit is in reducing lymphedema, the painful swelling that often is a side effect after cancer treatment.
Proceeds of the Rose Regatta will benefit St. Rose Dominican’s R.E.D. Rose Program. R.E.D. stands for Responsible Early Detection of breast cancer, and the program provides free clinical breast exams, mammograms, ultrasounds, surgical consultation and biopsies to women and men 49 and younger who lack adequate health coverage or the financial means to obtain them. Survival rates for breast cancer are directly related to how early treatment is sought. So essentially, this program has the potential to save lives that may not have afforded early screening. The Red Rose program directly depends on volunteerism from the local community to run the event.
Although it’s true, survival rates for breast cancer are directly related to how early treatment is sought, that early treatment isn’t always a guarantee. As a researcher in the pharmaceutical industry, I was already in the world of oncology when I discovered my cancer in 2008. I was fortunate to be surrounded by oncologists and cutting-edge science. Compared to some of the other cancers a person could have, I felt that breast cancer was not that bad considering my family was grown and early stage-breast cancer has great treatments compared to 20 years ago. I entered a clinical trial to compare which chemotherapy was best to treat early stage breast cancers1. The results included identifying genetic predictors of some of the side effects incurred with these chemotherapies (for example, paclitaxel can cause neuropathy, but why does it occur in some but not all patients?).
Since I was menopausal at the time, I continued treatment with aromatase inhibitors for seven and half years. Last October, a lymph node under my arm was swelling, so we biopsied. Scans revealed that it had spread to my liver as well. I was in the low percentage of patients who were treated early, but the cancer returned and was metastatic. For me, this happened nine years later.
Shortly after receiving my metastatic diagnosis, I joined up with six other dragon boat mates from Vegas Strong to join a composite team of survivors from Dallas (Dallas United Pink) to attend the International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC) In Florence, Italy. This was yet another amazing experience with this sport. Over 4,000 female breast cancer survivors from all over the world attended this festival. Each of the 129 teams represented their prospective countries, and all participants had the same disease. We all stayed strong and paddled through our emotional and or physical pain. This was a trip of a lifetime!
I’ve been super lucky to have so much support from my friends and especially my family, but dragon boating helped me accept my diagnosis with a positive attitude. I’m living every day with gratitude like no other. I hope others affected with breast cancer will consider joining similar programs which can tremendously impact a person’s mental and physical health during a difficult journey!