Hollings hits the water for Dragon Boat Charleston

May 23, 2024
shot of the backs of people's t-shirts as they walk down a dock The white shirts with blue graphics say Hollings He-Rows with a stylized image of a dragon
The Hollings He-Rows is one of the MUSC teams that participates in Dragon Boat Charleston every year. Members enjoy the team-building and the opportunity to see current and former patients in a non-clinical setting. Photos by Clif Rhodes

It’s a day that care team members look forward to all year long, and this year’s Dragon Boat Charleston festival didn’t disappoint.

The day was filled with camaraderie, friendly competition and helpful resources.

“It was an incredible day on the water,” said Claudia Miller, R.N. By day, she’s the lung cancer nurse navigator at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. But on one Saturday each spring, she becomes a super competitive paddler, urging her fellow Hollings He-Rows to faster and faster sprints down the Ashley River.

Dragon Boat Charleston is a local nonprofit that serves cancer survivors. Started as a Hollings program in 2003, it’s long since become an independent organization. Yet it retains the enthusiastic support of members of the Hollings community – and, in fact, the MUSC community as a whole – all of whom appreciate how the activity brings together cancer survivors, care team members and community members for a day of fun physical activity as well as yearlong support.

Of the 41 teams participating this year, Hollings He-Rows and Liquid Tumor Lifeguards represented MUSC, and Bubbles and Buoys had both strong MUSC and community participation.

a group of people in blue t-shirts pose for a photo with a dog 
The Liquid Tumor Lifeguards team is composed primarily of care team members from the oncology units in MUSC's Ashley River Tower in Charleston.

“It's very rewarding,” said Jason Smith, R.N., the nurse manager for the oncology floors in Ashley River Tower and a member of the Liquid Tumor Lifeguards. “We are within these four walls day in and day out, and to be able to extend out to the community and see people outside of work – it really connects to purpose: why we do what we do.”

Liquid Tumor Lifeguards member Carrie Moore, R.N., program director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant program, agreed that seeing former patients is one of the highlights of the day.

“I’ve been away from the bedside for a bit, but seeing patients that you cared for at one time – it reminds you that the good care that you provide leads to opportunities for our patients,” she said.

Physician assistant Jennifer Ridgeway, who sees breast cancer patients, as well as patients in the high-risk breast clinic, leads the Bubbles and Buoys team. She said the community aspect of Dragon Boat is important for survivors.

“It’s an opportunity for patients with different types of struggles to come together,” she said. “Outside of the fitness part of it, when you talk to the people who are involved with Dragon Boat, you realize how much of a support system it is. Because, while most of us treat patients with cancer, if we’ve not actually been through it and walked that journey ourselves, we don’t truly know what they’re feeling and what they’re going through. And even if they have had treatment and are ‘cured,’ there’s still that lingering fear of a recurrence. Here’s a whole other group of people who have those same thoughts and concerns that they do and have been through what they’ve been through. So it’s a shoulder to lean on.”

a group of women in faux ballerina skirts and tanks that say A Day at the Derby with an image of a girly horse pose for a photo 
as people on a dock walk toward the water, a man in a blue life jacket with a backwards baseball cap raises his paddle in a cheer 
Top: The Bubbles and Buoys team used a Derby theme as the Dragon Boat festival was held on the same day as the Kentucky Derby. Botton: Dr. Craig Lockhart, chief of the Oncology Integrated Center of Clinical Excellence at MUSC, gets ready to paddle.

Miller said that she likes that the event is for all cancer survivors. Day to day in the clinic, providers focus on one type of cancer, but at Dragon Boat, they’re interacting with survivors and care team members representing all types of cancer.

“This is all comers, and it’s a way that anybody at any level of fitness can get in and do something,” she said.

The Hollings He-Rows crew members, she fondly added, are a hodgepodge of providers, nurses, infusion nurses, staff members and patients, some of whom she’s cared for and others who she wouldn’t have met without Dragon Boat.

“I stay in touch with them throughout the year now, and whenever they come in for visits with a provider, even one that I don’t normally work with, they’ll stop by and say hello, or I’ll go down and say hello.”

While Moore, Smith, Ridgeway and Miller have participated in Dragon Boat for years, Liquid Tumors Lifeguards co-captain Danica Klipsch, R.N., assistant nurse manager on the oncology floors in Ashley River Tower, is a relative newcomer – albeit an enthusiastic one.

“I’ve been here two years, and I remember the first year that I participated, I was like, ‘Ohhh...I get to go on a boat in Charleston? And it's for a great cause?’” she said. “It is a great day. It’s good team bonding, and you get to hear different cancer survivors and their stories.”

a man in t-shirt and shorts stands on an outdoor stage with a mic while two women holding paddles filled with names stand to the side and listen 
a group of people on a long narrow boat holding paddles float on a river with greenery on the bank behind them 
Top: Dr. Evan Graboyes, director of the Survivorship and Cancer Outcomes Research initiative at Hollings and a head and neck cancer surgeon, speaks to the crowd. The head and neck cancer team is heavily involved in Dragon Boat Charleston, providing free head and neck cancer screenings at the festival. Bottom: The Hollings He-Rows on the water.

All of the teams get a total of two practice sessions before race day, which helps to level the playing field for those with little to no experience.

“It is hard – at one point I had to close my eyes because I was getting so much water splashed in my face!” Klipsch said. “But it is nice because everyone in the boat is chanting and encouraging each other. You really feel that sense of teamwork in that quick almost two-minute stretch.”

Most of all, the festival is a fun and positive day.

“It just gives you a different perspective about patients who are living with cancer,” Miller said. “Because it really does show that they are living with it, and it’s not dictating everything that they do.”