This article is sponsored by Dignity Health

Seated in the waiting room prior to her breast biopsy appointment in 2005, Terry Maurer came upon reading material outlining the benefits of dragon boat racing  for breast cancer survivors. Recalling her first paddling experience when living in Asia in her 20s, Terry remembers thinking it was unfortunate that no such program existed near her home in Las Vegas. And so, while completing her own treatment for breast cancer, Terry formed an activity-based group for women cancer survivors.

Strength in numbers

Today, Terry is a breast cancer survivor who has coached more than 200 local women during the past eight years on the Pink Paddler Dragon Boat team sponsored by Dignity Health – St. Rose Dominican. In their brightly painted 22-seat boat, Pink Paddlers begin training on Lake Las Vegas in April for out-of-state festivals and for the 71-boat strong Rose Regatta Dragon Boat Race & Festival held annually in October.

As a sport, Terry says it’s ideal to build up strength during and post-chemo. “The active motion used to paddle the dragon boat helps break down scar tissue formed by breast radiation and surgeries, and is a safe and effective way to build cardio capacity and improve physical strength during and after chemotherapy.”

Breast cancer survivors create community

Exercise is just part of the story. The Pink Paddler Floating Support Group embodies their mantra, “We’re all in the same boat,” as it targets so many critical aspects of emotional, cognitive, and physical wellness. In addition, it builds camaraderie and team spirit during the bi-monthly practice on the water. Many women forge lasting and supportive friendships through this program, creating a community that Terry says “continues to grow deeper every time we meet, recruit a new paddler or gather for private functions on and off of the boat.”

The group always makes time to pause for a poignant moment on the boat as pink petals are cast afloat as a remembrance. “We have lost five teammates from disease progression and we honor them at every race and keep them close in our hearts at every practice,” Terry says.

Pink Paddler supports community outreach

The Dignity Health program has a fundraising aspect to reach women in the community beyond those in the boat. Local artists contribute beautiful, original designs painted on the rowing paddles that are auctioned off. In 2015, those funds translated into community-based assistance for 575 uninsured women, 497 mammograms, 44 biopsies and several breast cancer diagnoses.

Holly Lyman, Director of WomensCare and Community Outreach at Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican points out, “This program wouldn’t exist without Terry. She’s tremendously dedicated and is out on the lake all the time.” Terry’s commitment also shines through in her own words, “When becoming involved with the Rose Regatta inaugural program in 2009, I had no idea the impact it would have on my life, or the many lives of the women that would come to paddle on the Pink Paddler Dragon Boat team.”

A passion for paddling

Are there any tips for someone inspired to begin a paddling program similar to the one at Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican? Terry suggests, “Just start! It takes time to grow a team, but once you have a few passionate women, they will bring in other survivors. Like any exercise program, paddling is not for everyone, but it is often a great outlet for those that would not seek out support otherwise.”

Terry Maurer was nominated for the Dignity Health Humankindness Award for her work within the community, both leading breast cancer support groups and teaching Chronic Disease Self Management workshops. Her latest endeavor is a new program, Girls on the Run, sponsored by Dignity Health, in which Terry mentors girls aged 9-11 in self-esteem, confidence, and positive body image reinforced through running.  

This article was written by Laurie Jo Miller Farr via Examiner.com for CBS Local Media