“I GET TO” became my motto when I was going through my cancer treatment in 2021. What a gift that phrase has been to me and others in my life. When we change our attitude from “have to” to “GET TO” some things take on new meaning.  In June 2023, two years after I finished treatment for triple-negative and DCIS ER+ breast cancer, I saw some information about dragon boating for breast cancer survivors in the area. I had no idea what it was all about, but having just finished a weight training trial study with Dr. Colin Champ through AHN, and really enjoying the challenges of the physical activity, I decided I wanted to learn more. Because, WHY NOT? I talked to a few friends who pointed me in the direction of Hearts of Steel (HOS). So, I reached out to HOS via the website and within a week, I was in the boat and I haven’t looked back!  I have NEVER been in any team sport activities in my 50+ years of life and I am finding out that I love a good competition and a personal challenge as well. I don’t want anyone to tell me that I can’t do this -because I GET TO. I may not be the best or strongest paddler, but I GET TO join my team every time and we GET TO do our very best…TOGETHER. And, who doesn’t just love saying, “I am on a dragon boat team!” and watching the reactions and then having a fun conversation. 🙂


My mother was a 30-year breast cancer survivor. She lived to be 97 years old. I took care of her during the last years of her life. A month after she passed I went and had my annual mammogram. Never expecting to get the same diagnosis, my report was positive for cancer. So began my journey of beating Breast Cancer like my Mom. After surgery and radiation, I was sent to a medical oncologist. I didn’t like any of this one bit. As I was waiting to discuss my options with the oncologist, I saw a postcard about a Breast Cancer Survivors Dragon Boat Team. Then I said ” If I’m going to have Breast Cancer….I’m going to join this team!” And so, I did. At the age of 66 and never an athlete before this, I found the best treatment to overcome cancer both physically and mentally. It was the best decision ever. This group of Breast Cancer Survivors are true survivors. They laugh together, they encourage each other, they paddle together, and they win together. I would certainly encourage anyone interested to join us on the water and get to know your new best friends.


I had actually looked into dragon boating after my diagnosis back in 2013 but didn’t think I wanted to participate in any type of support group type activities at that time.  Fast forward 6 years later as I was crossing the Race for the Cure 5K finish line, a Hearts of Steel team member handed me a flier about the team.  About a month later I  was paddling in the dragon boat and I was hooked! Not only is it fun, and is a complete body workout, but this group of women is a great support and so much fun to be around!  I highly recommend giving dragon boating a try, it has been such a positive experience for so many survivors/thrivers!    I also recommend this team as an oncology nurse and a survivor, activity, and support are so important for survivorship.


“Hearts of Steel (HOS) is the positive of a breast cancer diagnosis. Diagnosed with DCIS one month after my 42nd birthday, I was trying to find my new normal. I was struggling to find a survivor group that fit me. I was active prior to my diagnosis but after radiation treatment, I was tired and felt weak. I wasn’t sure if I would ever feel as good as prior to treatment. Then…I met the ladies of HOS who introduced me to Dragon Boating! HOS changed my life and helped me heal physically, emotionally, and mentally. I found a new confidence that had me smiling. I am stronger now than I was prior to treatment and I attribute a lot of that to Dragon Boating! HOS lifted me up and gave me the confidence I needed to move forward. The ladies of HOS took me in and accepted me with open arms from our first meeting and stood by me when I made the difficult yet exciting decision to move out of state. My time with HOS will always be with me in my heart even though I am hundreds of miles away. In fact, I took these ladies into my MRI screening last month by thinking about HOS and paddling in the boat. I was paddling with HOS on a sunny warm Saturday morning practice all throughout the scan (which came back normal ?). HOS helped me to move forward in all aspects of my life. Just try it, you won’t regret it! I got the seat warm for you.”


“Before cancer, I was an active and positive person. After cancer, I wanted to remain both of those things. I was so pleased to find out, when I joined a breast cancer survivor dragon boat team, that there were other survivors who wanted to live an active lifestyle after cancer. While commiseration is always allowed (and periodically necessary), the best part for most of us is that we have a sport and a goal in common that really has nothing to do with cancer. Dragon boating and my friends have changed my life. I can’t imagine what I would be like and what I would be doing now without my team and my teammates.”


“This team has been a game-changer for me! I was truly struggling with post-treatment life. My body had changed so much and I felt so limited in what I could do. Then I joined the team for a paddle and I found myself again! This is my happy place!”


“Before I began dragon boating my bone density had dropped just into the Osteoporosis range. 2 years on the river —- no drugs or big changes in diet — and I am well above that range!!
A bonus beyond the obvious benefits of enjoying the river, competition and the camaraderie of a wonderful group.”

Join our mailing list and get updates delivered directly to your inbox!

Thanks for joining the Pittsburgh Hearts of Steel newsletter. Stay tuned for updates!