Breast cancer survivors find support and renewed body confidence at monthly Champion Paddles in Marina del Rey
By Paul M. J. Suchecki
One Sunday each month, Dr. Tiffany B. Grunwald teams up with Pro SUP Shop at Mother’s Beach for Champion Paddle — a 90-minute group stand-up paddleboard session to support women who are battling breast cancer.
A plastic surgeon specializing in cosmetic and reconstructive breast surgery, Grunwald has been paddle-boarding at least twice a week for the past five years with several other women in what they call the Core Group.
Two years ago, a member of the Core Group developed breast cancer, prompting Grunwald and Pro SUP Shop owner Mike Vaughan to ponder what to do as a show of solidarity. Considering that Grunwald was already paddle-boarding and competing in athletic contests with her patients, they decided to create an event to celebrate breast cancer survivors’ triumphs over adversity.
“We asked everybody to bring something that helped them through their surgery recovery, or their chemotherapy or radiation, and build a basket to give to this Core Crew member. Even people who hadn’t had breast cancer brought things to help,” Grunwald said.
The gifts were thoughtful because they showed an understanding of the healing process — things like a gift certificate to Dry Bar or an electric toothbrush, because it’s hard for a woman who has just undergone breast surgery to move her arms to wash her hair or brush her teeth.
“It was really nice — a basket of love from a community of women who know how scary it is be facing these challenging, life-altering events. We decided to continue it, and we’ve done it every month for years,” said Grunwald. “So many of the recipients have come back and paddled and brought their own different contributions to the baskets. I think it is beautiful.”
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women and their second-most common cause of cancer-related death. After starting in private practice a decade ago, Grunwald began to realize that women who confronted the grueling therapies for breast cancer felt betrayed by their bodies and lacked confidence. She found that focusing on demanding athletic goals could help patients cope.
“For the past seven years, I’ve been doing the Malibu Triathlon relay with my breast cancer patients, 28 of them last year. My job as a surgeon is not just to give my patients new breasts but to make them feel strong and beautiful, like a warrior. Exercise is a great way to do that,” Grunwald said. “There is that endorphin-produced feeling that ‘I am powerful and I can take care of anything.’ I help them get back to ways in which they trust their bodies.”
Sheila Young, Grunwald’s patient care coordinator, can see that difference.
“The women who have gone through surgery, chemotherapy or radiation have persevered. Those who didn’t think that they would have a life after what’s happened to them are now stronger and better than before,” she said.
About half of Champion Paddle participants are breast cancer survivors, but the event is open to anybody — women and men, survivors and people who want to support and encourage them. Dry land instruction is included for those who’ve never been on a paddleboard.
Pro SUP Shop instructor Sean Barnett is impressed by the participants.
“They are determined. They tackle challenging courses,” he said.
The next Champion Paddle is from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Sunday, March 12. Meet at Pro SUP Shop (which provides discount rentals for participants) on the southwest corner of the Jamaica Bay Inn parking lot, 4175 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey. If you can’t decide on a gift for the baskets, a grocery gift card will suffice. Call (310) 230-1466 or visit tbgmd.com/champion-paddle for more info.