Maureen’s story: how YWCA Hamilton’s virtual Encore Program helped a breast cancer warrior, 18 years after treatment

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When it comes to YWCA Hamilton’s Encore program, Maureen Hayman describes herself as a bit of a contradiction.

“I’m probably one of the oldest, but one of the newest, in terms of Encore,” she said.

Maureen – who turns 75 in November – took part in the first-ever virtual session of Encore, a free 9-week exercise and education program uniquely tailored for breast cancer survivors, held this spring. The brand-new online format allowed breast cancer warriors like Maureen to meet, share their stories, and learn tips and techniques, even while in-person gatherings were suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I love the exercises, I love the recipes, I’ve loved the connections,” said Maureen. “It reminded me of eating healthy – does this meal provide the exact nutrients that my body needs? – and I enjoyed all of the speakers.”

While many women who enrol in Encore have recently finished their treatment, it’s open to anyone who has experienced breast cancer at any time in their life. Maureen enrolled in the program 18 years after her cancer journey began back in 2002.

In February of that year, Maureen had gone snorkeling while on a cruise and pulled her rotator cuff getting back on the boat.

A trip to the doctor to examine that injury revealed she had developed cancer in both breasts – an unusual diagnosis, as the cancer had developed independently in both breasts due to high estrogen. She went on to have a double mastectomy, and since the cancer in her right breast was Stage 4, she had some lymph nodes removed as well.

Treatment was difficult for Maureen. Each time she had chemotherapy, her doctors instructed her not to eat from the Wednesday to Sunday prior to her appointment.

“I had a wicked time with it,” she said. “The chemo was extremely hard. In 6 months I went down to 105 pounds.”

Despite the difficult circumstances, Maureen was buoyed by her family’s sense of humour. Her husband liked to tease her about her tattoos – which were used to help direct her radiation treatment – joking that he never expected to have a wife with tattoos. Her family still jokes about the day she yelled “Whatever you’re doing, stop doing it!” when they were simply boiling water.

“We discovered a humour in our family,” she said.  “I didn’t think I would get through it. I didn’t realize how strong I could be, and how I could count on my family.”

Today, Maureen describes herself as safely through her cancer journey. She is an active volunteer at her church, a voracious reader (she has read 43 books since Covid began, including two that were recommended to her during Encore), and is taking an online course on Canadian Literature.

Her advice for anyone going through breast cancer is to have faith in your doctors, and be patient with yourself.

“My mantra going through cancer was “hope, happiness, optimism, patience, and enthusiasm,”” she said. “That’s always been my mantra and it got me through.”

The next session of Encore begins November 10 and will take place virtually. 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 acollingwood@ywcahamilton.org.

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