Breast Cancer Survivor Finds Strength in Dragon Boat Racing
Heartbreak and devastation take over as breast cancer begins to turn women’s lives upside down. As they battle through the uncertainty of what the future holds, dragon boat racing has become more and more popular with both cancer fighters and survivors. Murphy resident, Jeanelle Kam, is currently a member of Dallas United PINK dragon boat racing team, and cherishes the outcome of the long journey leading up to this point.
After attending medical school, Kam gave birth to her daughter during the second year of residency in obstetrics. She quickly realized the lifestyle of being a physician was too demanding, and decided a different career was best for her family. Kam moved to Murphy from Hawaii in 2014 to begin working as a researcher running clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies.
When Kam requested a baseline mammogram at 40 years old, she never expected the life-changing news she would soon receive. “According to the radiologist, the results looked ‘funny.’ They called me back to do an ultrasound and needle biopsies. They knew I was a physician, so the radiologist reviewed the images, showed me the spot and recommended doing a lumpectomy,” explained Kam. “After doing six biopsies, my gynecologist called and said, ‘Good news! It’s negative!’ Even though I understood it was negative, I still wanted a surgery consult about having a lumpectomy. I probably would have been happy if I wasn’t a physician, but I wanted to see a surgeon. At least that would bring peace of mind.”
Kam had a lumpectomy on Christmas Eve when her daughter was only five years old. After completing a BRCA test, her oncologist also reported her margins came back negative. She was told her breast cancer was stage 1 and she would need to immediately begin treatment. Kam explained, “The current treatment is a lumpectomy with radiation for stage 1 or a mastectomy. Those are pretty much equal treatments. Knowing what I know, I wanted to just get it out.”
She went on to say, “I went back to my oncologist and said, ‘I want a bilateral.’ When he asked me why, I told him when you go through your operations with other diseases, like diabetes or high blood pressure, the recovery is much more challenging. For me, I had no other diseases. I wanted a prophylactic on one side and to get the other one out. For me, I was finished having kids and I’m not tied to my organs. Some women are tied to their organs for some reason, but scientifically I didn’t need it, so I decided to do the extreme and have a bilateral.”
As her day-to-day routine after recovery returned to normal, one of Kam’s colleagues in the clinical research unit suggested she join Dallas United Crew’s breast cancer group. Since Kam previously paddled in outrigger canoes while living in Hawaii during high school, it seemed like a wonderful idea. She decided to wait four years until her daughter was older, then finally became a part of Dallas United PINK.
Dallas United Crew began as youth and adult rowing on White Rock Lake, then expanded to include dragon boat teams. Dallas United PINK is the first breast cancer survivor dragon boat team in the area. Their coach, Jovin Lim, promotes strength on the water to help breast cancer survivors thrive while living a healthy lifestyle. Team practice is held at 8 a.m. on Saturday mornings at White Rock Lake. Kam said, “We paddle for about an hour and a half. It’s tough, but so nice to be on the lake. When we practice, it reminds me of being at home. It’s great exercise and you get to meet other survivors. Our oldest member is in her 70’s and she continues to motivate the rest of the team. She always shows up for practice and is in the boat inspiring all of us.”
Dallas United PINK races competitively while being supportive of each other and others when they are on the water. Kam explained, “There’s that comradery between survivors. I will always feel blessed to have met them all.”