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Rena Wander: I am Bald and So Are You ... A Life Well Worth Living
  • Rena WanderToday, my doctor told me I had breast cancer.  I never realized how painful and frightening so few words could be. My world is crumbling around me. What am I going to do?  Will I recover? Is my life over?

    ~

    Why me?  Can I get through this physically and emotionally?  How will I feel after surgery?  After losing such a personal part of my body?

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    My surgery is tomorrow.  I’m scared to death, but know that I need to get through this.  I need to fight.  I won’t let cancer take my spirit away, or my life.

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    I thought that surgery and chemotherapy would be the most difficult part of my fight, but I realize now that was just the beginning.  I am in constant pain. I feel sick most of the time, and am exhausted. But worse than that, I feel so alone.  I know that countless other women battle cancer, the horrible disease that it is, but how do they recover?

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    A friend told me about Encore, a YWCA program that helps women recover from cancer through rehabilitative pool therapy, exercise, peer support and medical/social service referral.  I turned 55 today and joined Encore as my birthday present to me.

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    Wow, I just love being in the water, and being with the class.  Encore is a support group, yes, but not a cancer support group.  It’s the support of women.  We all gather weekly in the pool at the Santa Monica Loew’s Hotel and just enjoy the moment – of the water, gentle exercise, and camaraderie.

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    Up to 20 women come to the class each week. We support each other by offering encouragement, referrals, and other assistance.  It’s wonderful.  A few of the ladies have taken me to the pharmacy, the doctor, and even gave me the hats they no longer needed for my chemotherapy.  But it’s not just about cancer.  When we’re in the pool, we talk about many other things, like movies, family, life.

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    But sometimes people do talk about their cancer experiences, or help ease the anxiety about an upcoming checkup or procedure. Other times, there is just that feeling of “I’m bald, and you’re bald too, so who cares?”

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    I feel like I’m recovering more quickly from surgery because of Encore and these wonderful ladies I see each week. When I wake up in the morning, I notice that the sense of dread is lifting.  Recovery doesn’t feel so daunting anymore.  I feel whole again.

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    I have been a part of the Encore program for eight years now and have loved every minute of it.  Although I have been through two more bouts with breast cancer, chemotherapy and surgery, I still have hope and Encore.  How can I leave these wonderful ladies, the exercise and support?  I am 63 years old now, legally blind, and am preparing to go through reconstructive surgery soon. So many life changes to deal with, but Encore is still here.

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    I work with seniors now.  I listen to their stories; tell them mine, and we laugh and sing. And, of course, they know all about the YWCA’s Encore program!  Encore has saved my life … It has made it worth living again.


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