Anne O'Connor
I am a thirteen year survivor of breast cancer. It was discovered very early by my annual mammogram examination. For me, the surgery and six months of chemo were relatively easy. The mental and emotional strain; and deciding, along with the doctors, on the course of treatment was the difficult part. Others are not as lucky as I and some do have a very difficult time physically during their treatment.

I joined the Hope Chest group four years ago because it sounded like a fun way to get physical exercise - I found much more. The Hope chest has become a very, very diverse group of warm, loving, wonderful friends who band together to support each other, enjoy life and do what we can in the pursuit of a cure for breast cancer.

Claudet Burns
Against ALL ODDS
I never had the opportunity to be on a Sport Team. High School was in a Convent, with no gym or Sports. Physical workout was limited to walking to the Court Yard each morning for May Crowning.

When I had the chance to join Hope Chest, I jumped at it. The Coach and founder, Laurie Dooley, and all the ladies welcome new members with open arms. We were never made to feel like new-bees, everyone was friendly and helpful. The friends, the shared experiences, the feeling, we are all in the same boat has been a great comfort. Hope Chest is a different kind of Support Group, but the ladies are very supportive, ready and willing to help if needed. I joined Hope Chest in Sept 2001, it was, and still is a very rewarding experience for me. A year later when I first stepped into a Dragon Boat at a race in Canada, I was thrilled and excited. To this day, each time I get in a Dragon Boat for practice or a race, it's a treat. When you’re at the starting line, your heart pounding, and the gun goes off, you give it your all. It seems like forever before the Steer Person says "let it ride" as we cross the finish line. Your tired, excited, but most of all you have the feeling of accomplishment. We did it, no matter were we placed, we did it. A hap hazard crew of twenty wonderful, brave, never say die women, finished the race. We're all in the race of our life.

In Aug 2005, I celebrated ten years Cancer free, I was confident, I had it beat. Six months later the Cancer was back, this time with a vengeance. The Doctors at Roswell gave me hope where there seemed to be none. Against all odds, I have been able to go on with my life as though nothing is wrong. I've returned to work, manage my small Business, walk a mile or more a day, and have even paddled on occasion. I cherish each day. I'm inspired by the strength and courage shown by the women who have bravely fought the battle more than once, and won. I know I am fighting an up hill battle, but with the help of God, my family and friends, I know I'll reach the top.


Evelyn Starkey
My breast cancer diagnosis was the result of a (rarely initiated) self examination in July, 2000. Once the diagnosis was confirmed, a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation followed.

Prior to the diagnosis, I was deeply involved in a wonderful late-life career, helping Head Start teachers secure certification in the field of early childhood education, settled in a routine and thinking “life is good”. However, after raising and launching five children, I should have realized that life would still hold surprises, empty nest or not. The breast cancer scenario brought this awareness to me, without question and very abruptly.

Fast-forward to my current life. I pass many days never giving the cancer one thought (initially unimaginable). I believe that my many activities make this possible. At the top of the list is my involvement with the Hope Chest Dragon Boat Team. As I glide along the Buffalo River in an oversized canoe, paddling with 21 mates, I can't help but feel that life is good, not without "surprises" but darn close.

Georgia LoCurcio
I was a 55 year old widow of ten years in May of 1998, I had 2 children, Gina and Joe who had their own careers and lived out of town. I had a wonderful companion, Gary, who is now my fiancé. Life was good. Then I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. As a result of my diagnosis, I had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, (lost all my hair, which was devastating) radiation and hormone therapy.

My family and friends were all very supportive. However, others couldn’t really understand what I was going through as well as someone who has experienced this diagnosis themselves. This is where the survivors from the HOPE CHEST came in. These women are so positive and so filled with life one cannot help but appreciate every minute of every day. They pull you up when you are down and encourage you to do some things that you thought were impossible. I never thought that I would paddle a boat. Now I look forward to this challenge, and the time spent exercising and celebrating life with these wonderful women.


Maureen Stamp
I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in Feb. 1998. I was operated on by a great surgeon and friend, Dr. Eckert. The operation was a lumpectomy of the right breast. It was a horrible time in life for me. I thought my life was going to end. Becoming a survivor changed how I was going to start this new life. Certainly I would think more about people, those I knew or had yet to meet. The Hope Chest has made me become the person I was hiding inside myself. We have made more friends than we ever thought we would. It has also helped me to become more confident person. Fantastic having such a great life to live now! Thanks to Laurie Dooley and the Hope Chest.


Pat King
I almost cancelled the mammogram that discovered by breast cancer. I had a mastectomy on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1988. I remember saying to my husband, “No corned beef and cabbage for me today.”

After the mastectomy, one of my biggest concerns was my husband’s reaction to my body, post-surgery. When I finally had the courage to ask him if he wanted to see the scars, he replied, “Pat, you have been undressing in front of mirror, you don’t have to worry.”

I sought out a support group, but couldn’t find the one that was right for me. I was reluctant to join the Hope Chest because I was so discouraged. However, I walked in and discovered it is a “celebration of life”, a program that gives you back control of your body and promotes emotional wellness as well as physical wellness. This was exactly what I had been looking for.


Shirley Davidson
I am an original member of Hope Chest. My breast cancer was in remission. I decided to see what dragon boating was all about. Our dear leader Laurie Dooley surely did teach us. In the process I strengthened my body. Today I am much stronger than I have ever been, and I'm six years older. My fellow breast cancer survivors (we now number 60 or more, having started with about 12) are my friends and true supporters. I love all of them.


It’s October now. Autumn has arrived. The sight of seemingly herds of squirrels flamboyantly skirmishing about our lawns is a daily occurrence. Up and down the trees they run; gathering and storing away their food supply that must carry them through another season. The sounds of the flocks of geese; in a formation that provides security and assures success, embark, once again, on their journey southward. The cool nights that compel us to cover ourselves with an extra blanket as we sleep. The dawn dew upon our lawns is now a silver frost embellishing the reflected rays of a sunrise ever more distant. The affectionate hand of Mother Nature has gently transferred the warm days of summer to another region to another community. You can sense a change taking place in our natural world. A new season, in a cycle ever so familiar, yet ever so ambiguous.

With this uncertainty comes doubt. Doubt fosters inquiry and inquiry initiates indecisiveness. I fleetingly question my rational of spending another winter season north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Then I begin to reminisce the memories of the past. It is all clear to me now. My boyhood days of building snow forts and the seeming endless hours spent playing with my friends on a school day off, following a snow storm. The hot chocolate that ensued as my mom and I sat in the kitchen, lovingly debating “Why didn’t you keep your hat on”. Back then it seemed more like a scolding than a debate. The gathering of family around the Thanksgiving table; full not only of the fragrance of good eat’n, but also full of the security of love. All of these moments in time give reason for why I so love and cherish this Western New York community; I will forever call home.

The strength of the human spirit and the unity of kinship converge to create a sense of purpose that is capable of overcoming all obstacles. I feel that this is particularly true in this community. That is why I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to write this article. It is not about me nor is it entirely about the natural flow of every day life. This story is about the strength of a sisterhood of women who, together, have risen above a difficult time in their lives and together they have sculpted a quality of life for themselves that few will ever achieve. It is about the women of The Hope Chest Team.

The Vision

The Hope Chest Team was a vision aspired by a friendship between two women. Nina Sacco and Laurie Dooley had been friends for many years. They shared many common ties throughout their lives. They raised their children together and
eventually began working out together in the evenings; both aspiring to become personal trainers. At age thirty-eight, Nina’s life was suddenly transformed from that of a healthy middle aged mother, to that of a woman facing the challenges of coping with breast cancer. Nina approached this adversity with the strength and fortitude of a warrior. During her treatment she continued to walk and she would drag herself to the gym whenever possible. “She believed in moving everyday of her life” states Laurie. Nina then decided that she would like to make a difference in the lives of breast cancer survivors. She asked Laurie to help and together they created a wellness program that would break “the silence and loneliness cancer can create. In January of 2000 the Hope Chest Program was founded. Laurie Dooley would be the personal trainer for the program and Nina Sacco was the inspiration and motivation for what would become a vanguard initiative in the approach toward treating breast cancer survivors. Liz Guay, the very first breast cancer survivor treated by Laurie, felt that Laurie was being to gentle in her treatment. This led them to inquire and seek alternative exercise treatments that would establish a protocol for the Hope Chest Program. This led to the establishment of using dragon boat racing as a catalyst for development of “full and active lives” for breast cancer survivors. Its inception was based on a research study conducted by Dr. Don McKenzie of Vancouver, British Columbia. He dispelled the myth that breast cancer survivors should refrain from certain extensive and repetitive upper body exercise and found that dragon boating did not seem to cause lymphedema in those volunteer subjects who participated in the study. And so a vision was born and the race had begun for these three women. A vision of hope and a race to re-establish a quality of life, once thought lost, to the survivors of breast cancer.

The Race

A new goal had been established. By September, 2000 Laurie needed to recruit and train 20 women to participate in a dragon boat race in Toronto. She did just that. Offering free training she had quickly recruited 18 women. Together they weight trained and they also sat in a raft inside her pool practicing the techniques of paddling. In September, 2000 they where on the docks at Ontario Place preparing to participate in their first ever dragon boat race. Dwarfed by over one hundred thousand people, the Hope Chest Dragon Boat team from Western New York would be only one of the 150 teams racing that day. This didn’t phase these women. They “felt alive” and together and were ready for “living on the edge”. In a race which only usually takes only 2 minutes 50 seconds, it took 20 minutes just to get in the boat for the first time. In this 44 foot wooden canoe this team would race through four foot waves on Lake Ontario. They didn’t win; but they were winners.

This début blossomed into a mission toward future participation in races. Working out year round they weight train twice a week during the off season and between June and the end of October they row out of the RCR Marina twice a week. Today there are three teams of 20 women that race in competition three times a year. From Canada to the Southern United States, the Hope Chest Team bring their impassioned attitude, of living life to the fullest, with them to every race. Laurie states that “The women of the Hope Chest really exemplify how life can be better after you are diagnosed with breast cancer. That you can be more active, you can be more physically fit. You can be more inspired, more empowered and do things that you never thought you could do in your life.” Be not afraid for there is hope and it is right here in Western New York. It is driven by the fortitude of breast cancer survivors and many volunteers such as Laurie Dooley and an iron worker from Chautauqua County who built their trailer as a tribute to his mother who had breast cancer. It is watched over by the spirit of Nina Sacco who passed away in May, 2000. So if you see a 44 foot purple and white dragon boat being paddled out in our marina, remember that these women, sitting as a tribute to their mentors and friends, Nina Sacco and Betsy Lee, are traveling to a future full of aspired dreams that life can be better.

The Future

The good news is that the rate of breast cancer survivors is increasing due to the new treatments and medical advances being used today. Continued efforts must be made to enhance the quality of life issues facing these survivors. The obstacles that we all face are overcome by the strength of the human spirit and the unity of kinship exemplified by the women of The Hope Chest Team. Their arms are opened and their support is endless. Join them in their efforts. Share in their joy. It is a challenge that will continue to engulf many families throughout Western New York and today we can stand proud and confident that there is a future after diagnosis.

I invite you to visit the website of the Hope Chest Team at:

Also on Friday October 13, 2006 there will be a documentary presented at The Market Arcade on Main Street in Downtown Buffalo. The times are 7:30 P.M. and 9:00 P.M. It is the collaborative effort of many people but a special thank you must be extended to Jon R. Hand for the filming and his son Andrei Hand for the still photos to be presented. Join us in helping these women fund their endeavors and overcome their challenges.

Following are a collection of biographies on some of the women whose lives have been so positively impacted by this organization. It is their thoughts that hold true and it is their attitudes that honor us all.

Photos by:

Joan Jacobs
I think the Hope Chest is a great way to get on with your life after having breast cancer! Instead of wallowing and worrying, I get together with a great group of courageous Breast Cancer Survivors for a healthy and fun experience twice a week. Thanks to a wonderful leader, Laurie Dooley, and these outstanding women, I am able to view my experience (diagnosis & surgery in 2002, followed by chemo, radiation, etc.) as a bump in the road. I've had a lot of support from family and friends, but the Hope Chest holds a special place in my heart. We're a TEAM - and we're there for each other, whatever lies ahead.

I wouldn't have chosen to develop breast cancer almost 4 years ago, but since it chose me, I'm sure glad that I'm on this team. I've been a very fortunate woman with terrific family and friends, but I never would have imagined that cancer would give me the blessing of a group like this!


Kathy Daily
Four years ago I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer. It was a total shock for me – I had never thought cancer would touch me; heart disease was what I feared. When I went in for a routine mammogram, the doctor found the tumor and from that day on, I was a breast cancer patient. Now I am a survivor, thanks to my doctors, health care and the support of my wonderful husband, family and friends. When I went to a chiropractor for some back pain, she told me about Hope Chest, a dragon boat team for breast cancer survivors. I had never heard of dragon boating and did not know what to expect. But I contacted Laurie Dooley and she told me what it was all about. I have learned in the past 18 months that I am not alone and that I can have quality of life after a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. All the gals on the team offer support to each other. We don’t dwell on our disease but we are there to talk to one another if needed. The competition is for fun, never is there any pressure on us to excel, just to do the best that we can.


Michele Vitale
After reading a reminder that is was Breast Cancer Month, I had done a self-examination and discovered a lump in my breast. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 46 years of age in October 2002. I had a mastectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy. This negative turned into a positive with my involvement with the Hope Chest Team. The support, encouragement, and unspoken sisterhood are immeasurable. I‘m also very fortunate to have the love and support of my husband, two children, family, friends and co-workers. I do not worry about tomorrow but focus on living today. Being 50 is great when you weren’t sure if you were even going to see it!

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