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Women battling cancer find support, serenity along Buffalo River

Co-founders Lisa DeMarco and Lisa Wind, both breast cancer survivors, came up with the idea in 2009 for the cancer survivor rowing team.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Twice a week along the Buffalo River, the group We Can Row finds serenity. 

"I think this is like church on a Sunday morning for a lot of people," said We Can Row coach Christi Roorda.

We Can Row started getting together in 2009 after co-founders and breast cancer survivors Lisa DeMarco and Lisa Wind saw a similar team in Boston.

They couldn't let go of a feeling. 

"What a calming effect this would be after the recovery and building up strength and physical, emotional support for this team," Wind said. 

That's key when all the women on the team, from their 30s to 80s, are either battling cancer or are cancer survivors. 

Lori Runk, 58, beat breast cancer but then was told to start doing weight-bearing exercises because radiation from chemo gave her osteoporosis.

"I'm like, 'Ugh, I got to go lift weights? I don't do that sort of thing,' " Runk said. 

When she discovered We Can Row, she realized she could have fun while getting strong. Others found inspiration. 

"I'm starting to cry. After cancer, it just, I felt like I needed to do a lot of things to prove I was still alive, and it didn't keep me down and I keep going," said 39-year-old Lesley Maloney, who beat cervical cancer twice. 

"I fell in love with the sport and more importantly, I fell in love with our group."

Most of the women have no prior rowing experience.

"We teach them how to row and then make them pull water," DeMarco said. 

Through the hard work and tough times, they lean on one another.

"Whether you're having a good day, bad day, treatment, everybody just gets together and shows their support," Wind said. "We all know why we're in the boat, but now we're here to continue life and not dwell on cancer."

Added Runk: "I get joy from this, so I don't ever want to let that go."

These strong women find serenity in looking ahead and show cancer who's boss. They are in need of a new boat, though. The old one is too heavy for them to carry at times.

They're trying to buy a new, lighter one for $30,000 but need the community's help. You can donate by clicking here.

We Can Row meets every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 9 a.m. at the Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association, for any women interested in joining.

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