PORTAGE LAKES, Ohio (WJW) – The still water of Portage Lakes has become a place of healing for Deann Viebranz. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, she never saw it coming.
“[It] was a total shock because there was no family history,” she said. “They always say look at your family history and there was none.”
Viebranz had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, but four years later, her cancer came back. She was told she had two years to live.
“I mean, [my doctor] kept talking and I couldn’t even tell you what he said,” Viebranz said. “He said ‘quality of life,’ I’m wondering, ‘where is the word cure I wanted to hear?’ He never said it.”
As a lifelong athlete, Viebranz always set goals, and this challenge was no exception.
“I wanted to be the longest-living metastatic patient my oncologist ever had,” she said.
While Viebranz’s story is personal, she is far from alone. In fact, she’s one of nearly 90 other inspiring survivors who make up a local dragon boat racing group.
Established in 2007, Susan Balmert is a founding member of the Dragon Dream Team.
“The mission is to send the message there is a great active life after breast cancer,” she said.
Balmert and others have helped dozens more pick up a paddle and reclaim their lives.
“You don’t realize how broken you are,” said team member Monica Siko. “Whether it’s because you are just so tired, you feel so defeated, you look different, you feel different, and then you get on this team and meet these amazing women that have been surviving for years and you see there’s hope.”
The 20 paddlers, a steersperson, and a drummer work together in perfect unison as they make their way across the lake. Their grit, stamina and willpower have paid off. The group won several trophies and titles, including third in the world, and first in the United States among breast cancer survivors.
Their pride is celebrated with a ceremony at every race, where each member tosses a pink flower into the water, never forgetting the teammates no longer here. Still, with every paddle, this team moves forward together: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
“Every lady will tell you the best thing that came out of breast cancer was meeting these ladies,” Viebranz said.
Members of the Dragon Dream Team will join us for this year’s Fox 8 Fox Trot. The race on Sunday, August 13, benefits the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, whose mission is to come up with new treatments and advancements. Sign up to participate in the one-mile walk or 5K race here.