Cancer Survivors Get Their Paddle On

It’s 8:30 in the morning. The sun is rising over the lake, the air is still cool, and we’re putting in the final pumps to inflate our paddle boards. Two people grab the end of each board as we form a train walking to the water. It’s all about intention. Standing on the water from the middle of the lake gives us an entirely new perspective, but first, we take a moment to sit supported on the earth; breathing, opening our hearts to the day in meditation. There’s a quiet softening from within. When we open our eyes; the colors are brighter, the sounds are more intense, the experience of being in our body is more pleasant.

Safety gear goes on. Noses of boards touch the water. There is a collective spirit of support from the other cancer survivors…many nervous. “She’s doing it. She’s scared. So can I. I chose this. I want this.” And with that, we extend legs to mount boards.

1st step: get centered.

2nd step: breathe.

3rd step: sink blade of paddle and pull.

The first few glides through the water are a little unstable…we hesitate a little, problem solve and modify. With each passing minute our nervous systems adapt…we become more stable and our thought drift, capturing the beauty and sound of water droplets hitting the water in arcs before sinking our blade again. Everything is rhythmical…the blade, our breath and lapping water. Occasionally we zoom out to take in the comforting green blanket of the Great Smokey Mountains surrounding Fontana Lake. From my perspective, before me is more beauty than I ever could have imagined; a tribe of women, all cancer survivors, unique in their creation, stronger than they could have imagined… in the moment, paddling across a lake.

“A Day on the Lake” is an annual cancer retreat for cancer survivors in Western North Carolina. I started this annual event last year after reading a research article on the benefits of stand up paddle boarding for breast cancer patients (I’ll summarize in my next blog post ;). I am not a cancer survivor; I am a physical therapist who has loved many people with cancer and treated the side effects of medical intervention. I had this idea for a stand up paddle board retreat last year, and just as all things that are meant to be, easily slide into place, the logistics for what was my favorite day of 2018, came together almost effortlessly. Andrea Morris, owner of Sol Flow Yoga, didn’t hesitate in saying yes offering her services for the day. Neither did Matt Nannis, owner of PIVOTPoint WNC, who I randomly met at a gas station and asked if he had boards I could rent . Did I mention that all 3 of our moms are breast cancer survivors?!

Last years event was such a HUGE success, we scheduled it again this year on Saturday August, 10th. It is open to all cancer survivors. Not only will we paddle, but Andrea will also lead us through two sessions of meditation and two yoga sessions ON our boards ON the water! Nervous? Don’t be (or…maybe a little…it’s part of the fun!); modifications will be provided for all yoga poses including…lay on your board and stare at the clouds. This is your day! If you would like to sit on a chair under the canopy of trees and WATCH other people paddle…that IS your yoga! Bentley, a whitewater kayaker, advanced EMT and Asheville fire fighter will also be running safety for us. Challenged? You will be, but hopefully you will love every minute of it!

REGISTER HERE for “A Day on the Lake” 2019.

Share with your friends!

Questions? Email me at

A few quotes from last year’s participants:


“The glow of our time together on Sunday has continued into Tuesday for me. I've wanted to try SUP for so long. A big "THANK YOU" to you for organizing the event and to Andrea for her yoga expertise and to David for his safety skills and to Matthew for his generosity. I am so grateful to receive the drops of the passion each person brought to the experience. I also recognize the community spirit of my fellow survivors of a chronic disease that we may have... but it doesn't have us." - Glenna Sears-Brinker

andrea head shot 4.jpg

"I feel most empowered, fully alive and really on my gratitude game when I am on my board. As a yogi, I've found that my practice on my SUP slows not only my pace but my thoughts, my mental commentary, my breath, my life!

Connecting with the element of water while paddling brings me the sweetest kind of peace I know and allows me to move gracefully into the exactly spot I long to be; In the flow of all things. I have cried more times than I can count while in the middle of the lake or river; tears of relief, release and often pure ecstasy. This is the place I find clarity.

For me, there is no greater feeling than that of being fully connected & engaged with my own rhythms, my body and all of nature ... and that's exactly what I find each time I set out on my board.

As a teacher and guide, sharing Stand Up Paddle Boarding and SUP Yoga brings me immense joy. It's so wonderful to witness others overcoming fears, stepping into personal power and courage and having lots of fun! I also trust that each person will have their own perfect internal experience, likely a glimpse into their own state of being and maybe even into that which yearns for a little tending and self-compassion in each heart"