By Elaine Omann

The Carnation Ceremony is a breast cancer dragon boat race tradition that originated in 1996 in Vancouver when a paddler picked fuchsia colored roses from her garden to give to other paddlers to wear and toss into the water after a race as a way to honor a member who could not participate. By 1998, pink carnations and the tossing ceremony became rooted in dragon boat culture.

On Sept. 23, Jacksonville’s Dragon Boat Festival held its races and carnation ceremony.

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As part of the ceremony, pink flowers are given out to survivors on a stage or in dragon boats in the breast cancer division of a race. The boats pull up to the shore and are linked together with paddles. Often paddlers jump into other boats as a way of showing common cause, drummers beat in sync, and the paddles go up as another sign of tribute.

The audience is included with accepting flowers, especially those who are family, friends, and supporters or caretakers. The ceremony is most often accompanied by a personal talk which focuses the audience on the topic of cancer and survival. Music provides another means of reflection and those holding flowers will raise them high and sway with the music before tossing them into the water.

This year for the second year, Winn Dixie at Baymeadows donated the fuchsia carnations that were held high as the music from Martina McBride’s “I’m Going to Love You Through It” was played over speakers at the Jacksonville Dragon Boat Festival. The survivors on stage held their flowers high and swayed to the music. The audience participated with them and a memorable moment was captured when one of the paddlers unexpectedly and poignantly signed the words to the song. The expressions on the faces told each personal story as a cancer victim, survivor, or a friend and family of those with breast cancer.

Research on the sport of dragon boating for breast cancer survivors indicates there are both physical and psychosocial positive effects on paddlers. The camaraderie and support for a physical exercise has been healthy and thriving for the survivors as part of post-operative rehabilitation.

Dragon boating has prompted more studies to be conducted on the psychosocial effects for emotional support and comradery. It is a common way for exercising, participating in a sport, and supporting one another. It is the importance of celebrating lives of survivors and a hope to those living with the disease.

During the month of October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month — organizations such as In the Pink provide many opportunities for the community to learn more, to support breast cancer, and to contribute to the effort of living with breast cancer. Visit for additional information and events in October.

Photo by Elaine Omann

Survivors respond with expressions during the music tribute.


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