OVER the pond in North America there are hundreds of women, paddle in hand, making waves in the world of dragon boat racing.

They are members of 100 dragon boat teams made up of breast cancer survivors, which are so established they even have their own world championships - recently held in Singapore.

But this side of the Atlantic, the idea of women who have recovered from the disease taking to the country's rivers in a wobbly boat is relatively unheard of.

Until now.

Having heard about the benefits of dragon boat racing, Malvern breast cancer survivor Sue Shackleton has taken to the water with the aim of uniting fellow survivors to form a Worcester team.

"I was listening to a report on Woman's Hour which was discussing the fact that dragon boat racing has become a popular sport among breast cancer survivors in Canada, the US and other countries and I just thought that it sounded like a fantastic idea," the 47-year-old said.

"I'd been diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 45 and undergone seven months of gruelling treatment, including an operation, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and had got to the point where it was all over and I'd just got to go back to work.

"I thought, is this it? Have I just got to go back to a normal life?' So when I heard that this was happening elsewhere I just thought I had to give it a go.

"I was desperate for a new challenge and this ticked all the boxes.

"It is exercise, something new I'd never done before, it's out in the open air, and it's a new socialising opportunity."

Sue said that the advice given after having treatment for breast cancer is to take it easy, and not to lift things if it can be helped as this can cause problems like lymphodema - a swelling often suffered by cancer patients where lymph nodes have been removed during surgery.

In the case of breast cancer patients the lymph nodes under the arm are often removed.

"All the advice is restrictive and to be honest, a bit of a pain," she added.

"So a few years ago, a Canadian doctor decided to test advice and asked for volunteers who had had breast cancer to take part in a sport with lots of arm exercise.

"He found that it didn't cause lymphodema in any of them.

"And, it also had other benefits - being in a team and paddling together for the same goal is physically beneficial but also emotionally rewarding. The people involved never looked back. It's like a floating support group."

After doing her research - which included getting in touch with Canada's first breast cancer survivors dragon boat team Abreast In A Boat - Sue, from Albert Road North, got in touch with Nigel Leigh, the chairman of Worcester Dragons, and put the idea to him.

"He was really keen, as was my surgeon and the breast cancer nurses at Worcestershire Royal Hospital," Sue said.

"I have been training with the dragons now for about a month or so. It's hard work but I really enjoy it. When first diagnosed I imagine a lot of women think they're going to die but the reality is that most people recover and go on to lead full and active lives.

"There's plenty of life after breast cancer and this is a shining example of people getting on with their life and living it to the full."

Sue's breast cancer consultant, Steven Thrush, said there is recent evidence that regular exercise post treatment prevents breast cancer coming back.

He added: "Support groups are also very useful in coming to terms with the diagnosis and as support, and Sue's story shows the enthusiasm of the women of Worcestershire to show initiative and put Worcester on the map."

So far there's only one breast cancer dragon boat team in the UK - the Pool Of Life from Liverpool. Now Sue is determined to make Worcester the place for the second team - and she has high hopes for it.

"By training together, we can aim for the next world championships which will be held in 2008," she said.

To find out how to become involved call Sue on 01684 575787 or email sueshackers@aol.com


DRAGON boat racing is not the only sport being taken up by breast cancer survivors.

The England Ladies Flyfishing Association and the Countryside Alliance have joined forces to launch Casting for Recovery - a unique outdoor-based programme which will start next September specifically designed for women who have or have had breast cancer.

The casting action provides the gentle exercise recommended by therapists for joint and soft tissue mobility.

Fly-fishing also offers participants the chance to reflect and escape in tranquil surroundings.

Casting for Recovery was founded in the US in 1996 and has since helped more than 2,000 breast cancer survivors.

The UK planning co-ordinator is Sue Hunter who recovered from breast cancer to become an international gold medallist and captain of Team England 2007. She said: "My aim is for Casting for Recovery to be as successful in the UK and Ireland as it has been in the US and Canada."

Robert Gray, from the Countryside Alliance, said: "The programme will set the benchmark for excellence in outdoor therapy of this kind." For details contact info@countryside-alliance.org