SHARING AND CARING: Encore participant Joyce Byrne and facilitator Carol Campbell said the program combines education, support, fun and fitness.
SHARING AND CARING: Encore participant Joyce Byrne and facilitator Carol Campbell said the program combines education, support, fun and fitness.

Breast cancer exercise group much more than fitness

CONNECTING, sharing, fitness, fun and self-confidence are what the Encore breast cancer exercise program is all about.

Run by the YWCA, it is a free eight-week program designed specifically for women who have had mastectomy, lumpectomy or breast reconstruction surgery at any time in their lives.

Carol Campbell runs the course regularly on the Central Coast, with the next starting in Erina on Thursday, October 18.

Joyce Byrne attended the last program and is keen to take part again, having found that being able to "talk to ladies with the same issues and discuss them openly with each other" was a great comfort and support.

"When I had breast cancer, I thought I was the only one, but I realised at Encore there are so many of us, all different and at various stages, but all going through similar things," she said.

With her own business, Feather Touch Massage and Wellness Centre, and a background in nursing (from midwifery to palliative care), massage and health counselling, Carol is "loving life" in her "sizzling 60s", and said she has always been "passionate about looking after women".

She said the Encore program, running two hours per week, and combining floor and pool exercises as well as guest speakers, was "empowering" for women at any stage of their treatment or recovery journey, whether two months or two decades after surgery.

"When you are diagnosed and being treated, it's very hard to take in anything except that you've got cancer and you might die ...

"It's often not until after treatment that you feel able to say, 'I have a choice about how this disease is going to affect me', and get education on how to care for yourself."

Encore aims to help women improve their quality of life, fitness, mobility, strength, body image and confidence, as well as reducing the side effects of treatment including stress, muscle pain, fatigue and lymphedema.

Carol said Encore groups generally comprised up to 10 women 40-90 years old, with two facilitators at each "fun, light-hearted and supportive" session, and guest speakers covering everything from massage to drumming to dance, yoga and lingerie.

Participants are assessed for flexibility and aerobic activity before the course and again at the end, and Carol said were often overwhelmed by how much they had improved.

While women may start out feeling body-conscious in swimsuits, or choose to wear shirts, Carol said "everyone loves the water (the pool is heated), and there's lots of fun and laughter".

"Everyone's journey is very personal, but they all understand exactly how you are feeling and are all there to support each other," she said.

Joyce agreed.

"I'm not a swimmer, but I really enjoyed the pool, and the program is very motivating to keep going with exercise, incorporate it in what you do, and realise the importance of a healthy body," she said.

"It was just what we needed - all very positive and professional and catered to all our needs, encouraging us ... but no pressure to do anything out of our comfort zone."

To find out more, go to ywcaencore.org.au, phone 0449904011 or email Carol at lovelife.tpg.com.au.


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