… are the women I have had the pleasure of knowing through a program I run at the YWCA called Encore.  It’s a free program for women with cancer that includes pool exercise and peer support. I was originally interested in training for Encore back in 1993 since I’m a fitness instructor and love helping people. Little did I know how much this decision would impact my life over the next two decades. My mom was diagnosed in 1995 with inflammatory breast cancer (one of the most deadly forms) and died from it in 2001. It was meant to be that I was already very involved in the whole world of breast cancer and lifestyle treatment by the mid-1990’s. Through my mom and the many women I have met over the past 20 years, I have learned some amazing lessons in courage, strength and tenacity.

A woman I just recently met, Leticia, is a perfect example of this.  Originally from Mexico, Leticia had a pretty hard life from the get-go.  As a child she had asthma, and her (charming) teacher told her to stop coming to class because “school is not for sick children.”  Her family moved to the United States and Leticia had to go to work at age 13 in a plastics factory when her father got ill.  She married and had three children who are now grown.  Four years ago she was diagnosed with and treated for thyroid cancer.  Six months later her vision suddenly went dark in one eye, and she was subsequently diagnosed with and treated for a benign brain tumor.  Eleven months later, doctors found three cancerous lesions on her lungs … yes, another operation.  And during this, her husband left her.  She had just contacted me at the YWCA to get involved in our exercise programs because after getting so weak from all these health problems, she was unable to get up off the toilet for five hours one day.  Leticia stayed strong through this storm of bad luck, and meeting her you would never guess the turmoil she had to endure. She has a beautiful and gentle soul that shines through when you meet her.  She is now taking several exercise classes at the YWCA each week and not only has improved her strength, but has completely changed her blood chemistry.  I asked her how she was able to get through all these hard times, and she credited wanting to live for her children, and to continue a new joy she has found in life, going to school.  Leticia has been taking art classes, photography and life drawing and has used this creative outlet and new-found love of learning to find joy in her life – something that had been so elusive up until now.

Many of the women I have met believe that cancer has given them a new appreciation for life, and instead of being caught in the maelstrom of treatment and fear, they appreciate each new day and enjoy their lives more than they ever have before. Here are some of the lessons I have learned:

– Laugh a lot

– Surround yourself with people who really love and care for you, and embrace their love and support

– Do what brings you joy

– Learn to listen to and respect your body and reclaim your health

– Express gratitude daily

– Be positive and dump the self-doubt and fear

– Exercise your body and mind

– And … laugh some more!

Join the Movement

– Sharon Donaldson