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3 min read

Finding strength in community: Dragons Abreast Australia

Profile of Bronte Chaperon
Written by Bronte ChaperonPosted on 16/11/2022

Early in the morning, Pearl Lee ventures down to Sydney’s inner harbour to don pink clothes and paddle a dragon boat.

She finds a spot in the 12-metre vessel, sits beside people of all ages and backgrounds, and begins to row. 

The group paddle, talk, laugh, take quizzes, and return to the dock for coffee.

The topics of conversation differ on each visit, but it’s always about supporting one another on their shared journey.

The journey? Adjusting to life after breast cancer. 

Pearl and her fellow paddlers are part of Dragons Abreast, a not-for-profit breast cancer charity focused on empowering survivors and educating them on the benefits of an active lifestyle.

Pearl, who joined just weeks after her year-long breast cancer treatment finished, is now Chair of the organisation.

Dragons Abreast support breast cancer recoverees through the physical activity of dragon boating, a Chinese watersport dating back 2000 years. There are member clubs all over Australia.

“Dragons Abreast Australia began at the National Breast Cancer Conference for Consumers in Canberra in 1998,” Pearl notes.

“There was a Canadian dragon boating crew there called ‘Chemo Savvy’. It made people think not just about cancer research, but about how more people are surviving breast cancer treatment – what happens after?”

In her speech, Canadian conference speaker Sharon Batt explained that some survivors dragon boat paddle in Canada during their recovery, inspired by the research of exercise physiologist Dr Don McKenzie, who had gathered evidence that exercising post-chemo was beneficial for survivors. 

Shortly after, conference attendee and former Breast Cancer Network Project Officer, Michelle Hanton OAM, founded Dragons Abreast in Australia.

“Joining Dragons Abreast was like a phoenix coming out of the fire,” says Pearl.

“I found the local group through my GP, and went down and watched what they were doing. I pretty much started straight after I had finished my radiation,” Pearl laughs.

There are so many women who never did a sport of this kind or magnitude, and when they do… you become a warrior

Dragons Abreast currently have 27 member groups and continue to welcome and support survivors and their loved ones on their recovery journey.

“We start off very gently. There are so many women who never did a sport of this kind or magnitude, and when they do check out dragon boating… you become a warrior, and that’s really good for your psyche.

“You feel like you were on a rubbish heap after all the medical treatment, and then suddenly you’ve been lifted by others that know the journey. We know that sometimes you might not be well, but we are in this together and we support you together.”

Dragon’s Abreast’s future

With the group supporting a growing number of survivors and their families, Pearl and the Board began to explore ways to ensure the longevity of the organisation.

“We worked out ‘this is what we need every year for funding’ and the rest of it can actually be invested, rather than sitting down not earning anything. The aim is to carry the organisation so it will always run. We’ve got big plans.”

The group decided to invest their funds through a Future Fund at Australian Communities Foundation (ACF).

Pearl notes a few things that attracted Dragons Abreast to ACF: “the number of existing Funds, historical investment performance (and the responsible approach to investing), and the flexibility to access our funds when we need to”. 

“It was also important that the organisation understood the not-for-profit model and our needs,” Pearl adds. “Our finance advisory panel grilled ACF and felt this was the best fit!”

Looking ahead, Dragons Abreast is making plans to raise funds through their Future Fund.

You feel like you were on a rubbish heap after all the medical treatment, and then suddenly you’ve been lifted by others that know the journey

“Fundraising is something we could bring on in the next year. Our aim is to grow, then we’d love to be able to return grants to the dragon boating group. That will be amazing, just to have the extra resources.”

Dragons Abreast need funds to pay for boats, overheads, oars, life jackets, and staff. They also use donations to plan public events that raise awareness of their organisation to reach more breast cancer survivors.

“The majority of the people who come are proudly either breast cancer survivors or supporters, such as their family members. It’s just nice to come down and see the fun and energy that comes out.

“It really is amazing. I like to tell people, ‘The doctor saved my life, and dragon boating saved my soul’.”

To make a donation, head to Dragons Abreast’s Future Fund here.

For tickets to the gala dinner, click here.

To learn more about how we support organisations through our tax-effective Future Funds, click here.