Dialog Box

Arts | Community | Health & Wellbeing | History | Rural | Social Justice | Sport/Adventure | Welfare
Beyond Here Be Dragons


$1,810 Raised of
Join an odyssey into the unique, unchartered world of 22 Australian breast cancer survivors attending the 2018 IBCPC Dragon Boat Race Festival in Italy. Behind the event lie tales of personal, social, career and financial struggles plus relationship adversity. Seen through the eyes of Karen Borger, accomplished filmmaker, breast cancer survivor and dragon boat team member, the audience enjoys an unique vantage point to the experience and the story of how this elegant and quintessentially Chinese cultural phenomenon developed into a worldwide sport, and then, from one breast cancer survivor team in Canada, spawned a dynamic, forward-thinking International community helping women rebuild their lives.

Borger’s team, the Aussie Dragonflies, from mid-North coast NSW, is made up of inspiring women aged between 40-80. Already facing the sense of invisibility and irrelevance in society, this crew will push the boundaries of respect for older women. They travel from tranquil Australian coastal rivers to paddle down the Arno in Florence with 3500 other international ‘thrivers’ participating in races and events aimed at fostering awareness and dialogue within the large international community. The Dragonflies final race results in a thrilling moment of achievement.

Hope forms an overarching thread. From the moment of diagnosis, patients face tests, scans, surgeries, and treatments, which often result in terrible side effects. The women straddle personal hurdles; interruption to careers, limited social interaction, an impaired physical life, financial burdens and often relationships collapse. Solidarity heals the angst.

We'll provoke debate by exploring the cultural taboos that prompt women to hide their truth, pain and suffering from colleagues, friends and even family? Why do 50% of men leave partners facing breast cancer? We aim to inspire change in the accepted mindset. 

The financial impact of battling breast cancer is surprising and staggering; between $10,000-45,000 in Australia. This heavy burden, shouldered along with fighting the disease, impacts quality of life. It’s time to investigate and unravel how 1 in 8 Australian women, all breast cancer patients, face and cope with these issues. 

And finally, how do survivors move on? Coming out the other side scarred, physically debilitated in many ways, and certainly not the same person as before, the worry of reoccurrences is countered as they find solace, rebuild personal and professional lives, regain positive body image and nurture their health with fellow travelers. 

Unity aids emotional recovery. Exercise facilitates physical restoration. Yet it’s the sharing of thrilling team adventures and stories that heal the deeper wounds.

Thus Breast Cancer Dragon Boating was born. Come now on this journey with the Aussie Dragonflies celebrating life beyond a breast cancer diagnosis.


How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

1 in 8 Australian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer before age 85. 

In 2016, 15,934 Australian women were diagnosed. That's 44 every day. 

The incidence of breast cancer in Australia is increasing and by 2020, it is estimated that 17,210 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed, approximately 47 every day. Men account for 1% of those diagnosed. 

Yet, does the wider public know what really goes on outside the pink ribbon days, head-shaving event and morning teas? 

This documentary aims to increase awareness of the true experience and explore how survivors face the harsh reality of it all. 

The personal journey of surviving the painful horror of breast cancer treatment is epic. It includes invasive and painful tests, mastectomies, often axillary (lymph node) removal and many additional surgeries, the debilitating and often life-threatening experience of treatments including chemotherapy, radiation, followed by breast reconstructive surgery. In addition, there are many associated illnesses arising from protocols; such as peripheral neuropathy, organ damage, thrombosis, lymphedema and the mental health toll cannot be ignored. 

The relationship breakdowns, social impact, and financial burden, (under private health insurance) are not widely understood. 

It is important to remember that most women survive breast cancer and that within this revelatory frank tale is also a beautiful story of camaraderie, survival and finding joy, strength, and power together in recovery while honoring those who lose the battle. 

Breast cancer survivors' dragon boating is an international movement inspired by the research of Canadian sports medicine specialist Don McKenzie. 

At the University of British Columbia, McKenzie, Professor in the School of Kinesiology and Director of the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre, submitted a 1998 paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal McKenzie describing how in 1996 he started a Dragon Boat team for women with a history of breast cancer, which the women called Abreast in a BoatHe believed that this activity benefited breast cancer survivors by providing strenuous upper body activity in an aesthetically pleasing and socially supportive environment. 

The national movement in Australia, originated in the Northern Territory when a group of Territory women attended the First National Breast Cancer Conference for Women in October 1998. Michelle Hanton OAM - the founder of Dragons Abreast, attended the conference. Canadian speaker Sharon Batt mentioned the success of Abreast in a Boat.  Inspired, Michelle returned to Darwin, contacted Abreast In A Boat to gain information and established a dragon boat team. From this beginning at Lake Alexander in the NT, the appeal is such that the movement has spread across Australia to include all States and Territories.

Aims & Objectives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

This film is about raising awareness through the sharing of story. 

It is only by offering up our truths to the wider public that we can hope to remove stigma, dispel untruths and raise consciousness. It is only through sharing the facts that we can hope to bring about positive change in healthcare for breast cancer patients in this country.

From that standpoint, we aim to inform the general public and hope to instigate change in the public benefit scheme, insurance policies, and perhaps eradicate medical impositions and legal rulings that stymie breast cancer patients and survivors. 

With this film, we aim to create a greater sense of empathy and perhaps shift the behavior of companies and individuals, including private insurance companies, and the 50 % of men who leave female partners when they are diagnosed with breast cancer. 

It would be the mark of success if the women who hide the fact of their diagnosis would ultimately lose the sense of shame and fear, and be open about the experience with breast cancer. 

By revealing the strength of these women, which they developed through dragon boating may we also shift the perception of weakness and idea that we survivors are damaged goods. 

For we are far from that, we are warriors. We have been through the fire, survived and are ultimately stronger for it. 

The penultimate aim is to create a documentary film that effectively starts a national, and international dialogue. 

To that end, interactive components of the project shall include an online blog and an online chat group space, held to answer questions raised by the audience following public television screenings, or wherever it is screened following distribution. The impact of the documentary will be measured by the extent of engagement it stimulated. It will show in the degree of compassionate action, understanding, community unity, and support enacted, and ultimately the social, business and political changes that come about. All of this should be enacted to alleviate the unwarranted stresses and avoidable hardships for future breast cancer survivors.


What is your education and outreach strategy?

Steps to develop outreach strategy and education plan.

 1. Define the goal of our campaign for raising awareness and creating change in and around the subject of breast cancer survival within our targeted audience and community. Goals include motivating communities and viewers to take specific actions to remove stigma, to help groups become vital tools for raising awareness and stimulating social change while inspiring the fight for shifts in health insurance policy for breast cancer patients. 

2. Clarify what specific action(s) for our audience to take. Develop a strategic audience engagement campaign to take messages beyond the confines of homes and computer screens. Investigate which platform would be best for engagement. Film Screenings/Panel Discussion? 

3. Build collaborative partnerships with key influencers and leading organizations on a national and/or community level. Develop an actionable list of all contacts to maintain and build partnerships. These key organizations and influencers may enhance our message while providing valuable resources for audiences. Concurrently, our project should enhance their message and mission. Both organizations need to support one another in our mutual efforts of raising awareness and creating change. 

4. Connect with organizations such as the Cancer Council, Breast Cancer Network Australia, Reclaim Your Curves, Dragon Boats Abreast, and other organizations in this realm of interest. 

5. Create Outreach Audience Engagement Kits and Film Screening Kits; including posters, postcards, flyers, press releases. (downloadable). 

6. Our outreach should capture the attention of companies; i.e. suppliers of breast cancer items, such as prosthetics, bras, swimwear, head scarves, wig makers, survivor clothing, dragon boat sporting gear companies, with the aim that these will, in turn, do tie-ins and promote the documentary on various products. 

7. Create mutual strategies for e-blasts, web posting, sending press releases to press lists. Create a website that effectively promotes discussion around the topics discussed in the film, and direct viewers to further sources of assistance, help, and guidance. 

8. Connect with issue-oriented campaigns maximizing social media, i.e. hashtag campaigns stepping off from the success of female issue-centric hashtags, i.e. #metoo 

9. Create a timeline and a schedule of detailed tasks. 

Our overall film marketing, publicity, and outreach strategy shall include national media coverage. Engagement on multi-platform opportunities includes a webisode series shot during filming, panel discussions, community events, interactive videos, social media, and exhibits, and elevate our symbolic strategy campaigns on shared goals, such as that of the breast cancer awareness Pink Ribbon campaign day. Utilise press, radio, and TV with news item opportunities around dragon boat events.

Karen Borger
Penelope McDonald & Alison Wotherspoon
Total budget
52 Minutes