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Breast Cancer Survivor Paddles for a Cure

Leah Salmorin is full of energy and a lover of all sports. In her native Philippines, she and her daughter, Nina Marie, would spend hours swimming and enjoying the outdoors.

Dr. Niriksha Chandrani with Leah Salmorin

However, in 2004, her whole life changed. After discovering a painful lump on her breast during a self-examination, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was initially told she had six months to live.

Salmorin left her job as a banker to focus on her treatment. Playing sports with her daughter, then 8 years old, was put on hold.

“I felt I was drowning in a deep ocean and felt so alone – struggling and in desperate need of help,” she said.

Prior to her diagnosis, Salmorin went for yearly mammograms while living in California. Upon moving to New York City, she received primary care from NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, so she was familiar with the high-quality care the hospital would be able to provide in her fight against breast cancer.

“We are a very committed and dedicated team who cares for any patient that comes through the door, irrespective of their ethnic background or insurance,” said Dr. Niriksha Chandrani, Salmorin’s oncologist who is co-chief of the medical oncology department at Elmhurst’s Hope Pavilion Cancer Clinic. “Our goal is to make them feel comfortable and give the best standard of care for our cancer patients.”

Salmorin’s treatment included a lumpectomy, four cycles of chemotherapy, 38 days of radiation and taking tamoxifen until 2009. She’s now in remission thanks to the devoted care from her Elmhurst providers, who see breast cancer patients for more than 5,000 visits each year.

According to the New York City Health Department, breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among women, after lung cancer.

“I told myself I will not allow cancer to ruin or mess up my life,” said Salmorin, who also attended the hospital’s breast cancer support groups throughout her treatment. “I will not allow cancer to knock me down completely. I will beat cancer because I am a winner. I will get my life back and enjoy it to the fullest.”

To show her appreciation to Elmhurst, Salmorin worked as an American Cancer Society patient navigator, counseling women on the importance of routine mammograms to prevent breast cancer. Last year, she was recognized during Elmhurst’s Cancer Survivors Day celebration for her volunteer work.

“Leah was highly motivated,” said Dr. Chandrani, who now sees Salmorin for follow-up visits once a year. “Even after being diagnosed with breast cancer, she was a very brave person – always trying to smile. Now she’s made it her mission to help other people. She’s a role model for other patients.”

Salmorin searched for a way in which she could inspire other breast cancer survivors to join the ongoing battle. Tapping her passion for water sports, she founded the nonprofit organization Paddle for the Cure, which offers a unique survivorship program that uses recreational dragonboat paddling to manage the side effects of breast cancer treatment.

Founded in 2013, Paddle for the Cure promotes a positive and healthy lifestyle among breast cancer survivors. The 20-member team includes survivors from NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst as well as supporters from the Queens community.

The team’s goal is to eventually compete on the national and international stage. The group holds routine fundraising events to aid in this goal, and a portion of the donations helps the underserved patients of the Hope Pavilion Cancer Clinic.

“I believe at the end of the dark tunnel, there is always light and I can get through anything,” said Salmorin. “I am thankful for being transformed into a better, stronger person.”

Interested in joining Paddle for the Cure? Both men and women ages 15 years or older are welcome. Visit pfcnyc.org for more information on how you can be part of the cure.

Check out these five facts from our experts on the importance of getting routine mammograms to reduce your risk of breast cancer.