"I remember, in the beginning, getting to that point of, 'Oh, my God, I'm either going to die, or I'm going to keep on rowing ... but I can't stop because there are seven other people in the boat,'" she said. "I don't think that I ever, consciously, got to that point and then beyond it. That is so empowering."
The women may not be rowing just for their own benefit. Dr. Jennifer A. Ligibel, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Dr. Carolyn Kaelin, a breast surgical oncologist at Dana-Farber and a breast cancer survivor herself, worked with the group to study lymphedema in exercise.
Millard said she feels that through exercise, she is "doing something about [breast cancer]." Aside from offering the strength that comes from rowing to other survivors, she said she wants their experience to advance the understanding of breast cancer and survival.
Today, rowing is one among many rehabilitation options available to breast cancer survivors. In their time in WeCanRow, Rogers and her co-president, Phyllis Groskin, 56, have seen WeCanRow-Boston become a registered nonprofit with grant support, and sister WeCanRow groups form across the country.
Amid the steady splash of the oars, the women of WeCanRow are often too out of breath to talk about breast cancer.
And that could be precisely the point.
WeCanRow is "not a place where you have to talk about the things that you've been going through, but you can," Rogers said, adding that the camaraderie of the boat sets them apart from many other breast cancer survivor groups.
"When you have to be in a boat and totally focused on the person in front of you, you connect in a physical way, and you connect in a rhythmical way, and you also connect in an inside deep way with a group of women who come from the same place, and that is being breast cancer survivors," she said.