Thousands gathered by the Ashley River in Charleston Saturday afternoon to say they're not going to let cancer stop them from living.

It was the annual Dragon Boat Festival at Brittlebank Park. Of the 67 teams competing to raise money to fight the disease, four of the teams were made up of cancer survivors, according to festival director Meagan Labriola. They trained and pushed themselves even while undergoing chemotherapy.

"We're here because there is a common thread that unites each and every one of us," she said. "That is the horrible disease of cancer."

Cynthia Smalls of James Island, a clinical trainer for a health-management company, has raced around the country. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and after treatment hoped it was gone. However, the disease returned in 2013 but she's not slowing down.

"We're all warriors," she told a crowd of supporters. "We all have strength within us and it's time to live, live, live."

She spoke during a Spirit Ceremony that ended with colored confetti filling the air and the crowd waving flowers and dancing to Katy Perry's "Roar."

The races are on the river, with a party on land. Rows of white canopies with pointed tops line the bank.

About 6,000 typically attend. The festival has grown so big in recent years that it's hard to find a parking space near the hotels or police station across from the park.

The goal was to raise $140,000, and more than $100,000 had already been reported before noon, Labriola said.

Dragon boats have two long lines of paddlers sitting side by side, with a person sitting in front keeping time on a drum and a person standing in back operating the tiller. The costumes the crews wear are often colorful.

A team called Super Power Paddlers dressed as superheroes. Nick Mead of Mount Pleasant was the the Hulk, including a green face mask that he wore on land but took off when he was racing. He said he joined Dragon Boat because several relatives have had cancer.

"It's a charity that touches home," he said, "Pushing for the cure and helping the survivors because it costs so much money now."

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.