The YWCA sponsor's a program entitled Encore or ENCOREplus -same program, two different names. It is a free exercise and support program for women with breast cancer. Some Encore groups include cervical cancer. You do not need to be a member of the YWCA to participate. I saw a flier for the Encore program on a bulletin board in my oncologist's examination room. Actually, this is where I find out all the good information about support groups. Thank you Dr. Banana Split and MGH.
I joined the closest Encore group at the Newburyport YWCA, about a 45 minute drive from home. The program offers exercise and support/informational programs. Because Newburyport can be a bit of a drive, I just attend the exercise programs, (although I haven't been in a few months - don't ask.) Anyway, when I heard it was exercises in a warm water pool, I thought...this is just for old people. The cynical side of me envisioned a bunch of lopsided or flat-chested old ladies walking around, waving their arms. Boy, was I wrong! First of all, there were women from early 30's to 60's, and every woman looked absolutely wonderful! I was the only lopsided woman, and there were a few that had doubles, but looked perfectly normal. We use foam dumbbells in different sizes that weigh nothing out of the water, but give your arms, chest, stomach and other muscles a great workout under water. I was huffing and puffing a few times. I use a lot of core muscle to keep me grounded in the pool; when the dumbbells are under water, your body wants to float up. I found that this type of exercised did wonders for my range of movement of my left arm. It really helped the tightness across my left chest.
Not only is this a great way to get exercise, it is a fabulous way to connect with other women who deal with breast cancer. We have a lot of laughs that others wouldn't understand or would make them uncomfortable. I met another woman who had a tram like me. I was so excited to talk with her because she is the first person who knew what I had been through. Like me, using hindsight she is unsure if she would have had the tram surgery. The camaraderie is well worth the 45 minute drive. (As I type this, I realize how much I miss it.) For fun, I decided to bring tiaras for everyone to wear during one session. Why? Why not? (It helps having two girls who loved dress-up.) It turns out that we were filmed that day for an Encore video. If I knew were were being filmed, I would have put on make-up and worn my pearls! Ugh.
Encore was so important to me that I even drove through the one terrible snowstorm we had this winter to attend Encore. Unfortunately, when I arrived I learned that it was cancelled due to the storm, but I stayed and worked out. From inside the pool I could look outside a window and see snow falling on the tall, white steeple of a nearby church...it was a "New England moment."
After one session, Barbara Hart, a fellow "Encorian" - my made-up word, and I stayed in the pool an additional 30 minutes to chat about "stuff." Her husband joined us and we talked about treatments, and how Barbara's breast cancer moved to her lungs. She looked terrific! I would have never guessed that she was in treatment for lung cancer. It's all about attitude!!!
A couple of the Encore ladies and I made a short film supporting the Encore Program. You can view it here (Don't be shocked that I look like I had an airhose fill me up - you know how women say they still have their "baby fat" from pregnancy, I am claiming "chemo fat" - also I didn't know they were filming so I am wearing no make-up - scarey! - okay, enough excuses - here's the link):
Encore programs are all over the world, and it takes a little work to find one in your area. If you type in "YWCA encore", the first link you will see is for Australia. Although I thought it looked like a great program, the commute is a bit greater than 45 minutes. I also saw Sacramento, Gettysburg, Santa Monica, etc.
I feel good physically and emotionally after Encore. Spread the word about Encore.
Solemn thought for the day...
This entry is dedicated to Barbara Hart, an Encore film star and comrade, who died last week from breast and lung cancer. You left an imprint on my life. My prayers are with you, Barbara.