YWCA Encore group fitness program in Macksville celebrates a successful trial run

It was all things pink at the sixth week of the Encore fitness program at the Macksville Aquatic Centre.
It was all things pink at the sixth week of the Encore fitness program at the Macksville Aquatic Centre.

After a cancer diagnosis, the world looks a little different.

Suddenly there’s a new delineation: those who have had cancer, and everybody else.

“You can have all the empathy in the world, but unless you experience something like cancer, it’s not the same,” state manager of the YWCA  Encore program Kate Guthrey said.

“When the women come together, that shared experience is golden.

The thing I hear all the time is: ‘they get me’.

Ten lovely ladies have been getting their groove on at the Macksville Aquatic Centre as part of a free eight-week YWCA Encore exercise program created by women, for women.

Over 10,000 women have completed the gentle exercise program for breast cancer survivors which has celebrated 25 years of operation in Australia.

There are no time limits for participants, and the YWCA has proof of the benefits of the program for someone who is 20 years post-surgery.

The gentle floor and water-based exercises are specifically designed to deal with the common physical symptoms after surgery, such as pins and needles, reduced movement and flexibility in the arms and shoulders.

The program also addresses the psychological and emotional aspects of experiencing breast cancer, by hosting regular talks and a mentorship system.

“It’s such a difficult program to describe because there are so many multi-layered benefits—both physiological and psychosocial,” Ms Guthrey, who has been involved in the program since 2009, said.

Macksville was chosen as the perfect place to roll Encore out on the Mid North Coast because of its relative isolation from comprehensive cancer treatment facilities and its cohesive community network.

“Funding is limited so we need to make sure it goes in the right areas,” Ms Guthrey said.

“[Macksville-based McGrath Beast Care Nurse] Carolyn Cross was the main instigator—she fought hard for the program.

“And knowing you’ve got the stakeholder base—that’s so important.

“Macksville is lucky to have two great facilitators and a great relationship with Martin Burrows, the manager of the Macksville Aquatic Centre.”

Two local health and fitness professionals were selected to facilitate the trial run of the survivorship program which focuses on building strength, flexibility and confidence.

Gretchen Highfield is a local yoga instructor and breast cancer survivor, and Rhonda McConnell is a trained massage therapist who has experience in hydrotherapy.

Both say their professional experience combined with the comprehensive training they received going into this program helped them to feel confident taking on the role as facilitators.

“So much thought, funding, help etc. has gone into this program,” Ms Highfield said.

“And learning about the lymphatic system has been really interesting—we don’t concentrate on that in yoga.”

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to be involved in this,” Ms McConnell said.

“We’ve got such a wonderful group of ladies, each with their own unique goals.

“And it’s so good to see them happy and enjoying themselves.”


Joy McLeod is one of the ladies who has taken up the Encore challenge.

“My experience with the Encore program is helping me with meeting others that have had breast cancer; we can understand each other after being through our different experiences with cancer,” Ms McLeod said.

“I am finding it very healing meeting other lovely ladies.

“Exercise is a key to feeling good and doing exercise in a group is fun—sharing is wonderful. 

“I believe there is not enough for cancer people in the area although this is a wonderful start.”

The Encore program has been such a success in Macksville that the next season which starts in February 2018 is fully booked and with a waiting list.

Kate Guthrey is not surprised by its success.

“Women try to be really strong—they don’t want to lean too much on family members and support networks,” Ms Guthrey said.

“This is just two hours a week where it’s all about them—their wellbeing and comfort.”

I had one lady who thanked me on behalf of the program for giving her happy back.

“She said she hadn’t let anyone else know that she wasn’t happy.”

Carolyn Cross is overjoyed at the community’s eager uptake of the Encore program and is currently in negotiations to bring the Cancer Council’s Enrich program to the Shire.

For more information about the Encore program or other available programs, or to join the waiting list, call Carolyn on (02) 6568-0697 or 0438 771-296.