Dea’s story: how positive thinking and YWCA Hamilton’s Encore program offered a road map to life after breast cancer

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Dea Cappelli says one of her biggest strengths is her positive outlook – even while undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Dea, now 76, learned she had cancer in 2006. But throughout her life-altering diagnosis and treatment, her unending sense of optimism helped guide her through.

“I absolutely knew without doubt that I would come though it okay,” said Dea. “I think one of my greatest gifts is my positive outlook. I’ve always been a very positive thinker. I really focused on the healing rather than the fear of not healing.”

Dea found a lump during a routine self-examination, right before Christmas, and faced the difficult task of waiting for her biopsy results during the holiday season.

After receiving the news that she had breast cancer, Dea used the six week wait-time before lumpectomy and lymph node removal to research and follow self-healing techniques. Dea says that those practices helped to diminish the size of her tumour by 25 percent.

“I guess I didn’t go through the great fear that a lot of people go through. You do have a certain amount of fear, but spiritually, I was in a good place, so I was protected from being too far into that fear journey,” she said.

“My journey was a lot easier than many I have met, because I felt I was just protected through the whole thing.”

Dea – who is now 13 years cancer-free – first learned about YWCA’s Encore program, a free 9-week exercise and education program uniquely tailored for breast cancer survivors, when she saw a small ad in the newspaper. For Dea, Encore became a roadmap as she was shaping her life after experiencing cancer.

“It’s really life-altering. You’re starting a whole new journey. I look at Encore as the road map through that journey,” she said. “It was a beautiful guide – you cover all of those aspects:  physical, emotional, mental, spiritual,” she said.

One of the most valuable lessons she learned from Encore was the importance of approaching her recovery holistically, not just from a medical standpoint. It offered her a plan for diet and exercise guidelines, presentations from women who have experienced breast cancer, and peer support to help tackle the everyday challenges.

“It was very empowering,” she said.  “The Encore experience leads you not only to compassion for others, but self-compassion. It encourages you to incorporate changes in your life.”

Dea, a book designer and author, published a book about her experiences with breast cancer called “Honey I Shrunk the Tumor.” She says that the overarching message of her book is echoed in the Encore experience: after experiencing the trauma of breast cancer, it’s important to combine traditional medicine with other simple, long lasting changes to promote healing.

“To heal a person, you have to deal with all aspects of a person.”

The next session of Encore begins November 10. To learn more about how this free program can help you on your breast cancer journey, please contact Anne Marie Collingwood at 905-522-9922 ext. 158, or


­­­­­Move More for Encore

During the month of October, YWCA Hamilton is hosting a new challenge to support survivors of breast cancer through movement.  Move More for Encore is a month-long challenge that encourages participants to include 150 minutes of movement per week in order to decrease their own risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer.

Funds raised will support the development of a new YWCA Hamilton program, ENCOREplus, which is a virtual expansion of our traditional Encore program. Taking this program online will help us support more breast cancer survivors than ever before.

With your support, we can help more warriors manage the complex emotional and physical effects of surviving breast cancer.

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