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Cindy Beaver: Living strong as a breast cancer survivor

October 25, 2017

Nobody wants to hear they have cancer. When Cindy Beaver received her breast cancer diagnosis nearly a year ago at her annual women's wellness visit, her first reaction was shock.

She had no symptoms and no family history of breast cancer. Given the option between the traditional mammogram or 3D mammogram, she opted for the more detailed 3D mammogram. The 3D mammogram detected a very small suspicious area, and she was then referred to the radiologist for follow-up.

According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data, breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer in women. About one in eight women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point.

The good news is that most women can survive breast cancer if it's found and treated early. A mammogram - the screening test for breast cancer - can help find breast cancer early, when it's easier to treat.

Beaver credits the 3D mammogram for picking up on the cancer, and she encourages everyone to opt for the 3D version and go to their annual wellness checkup.

Next, she met with Dr. James E. Spellman Jr., surgical oncologist with Beebe Healthcare, who scheduled her right away for a biopsy. When the results returned, the diagnosis was cancer.

Beaver was in denial because she had always been healthy and performed self-exams with no indication of any lump. Beaver has been in the field of physical activity her whole life. For 25 years, Beaver ran a gymnastic school in Mifflintown, Pa. She sold her business three years ago and moved to Sussex County; knowing she wanted to stay active and involved in the exercise/fitness/coaching arena, she connected with the Sussex Family YMCA to become an instructor. There she teaches courses in diabetes prevention, Zumba, regular aerobic classes and personal training. She also teaches chair aerobics at various neighborhood communities around the county, and she found her passion is working with seniors.

Beaver recalls taking comfort in Spellman's words post-discovery of the cancer. He said, "You are not going to die, but we do have to do something here." Spellman was very direct, and she liked his approach. Beaver was eager to take the next steps and move forward with her life.

Surgery removed the tiny cancerous area. Beaver was advised to wait one week post-surgery until she could resume teaching her classes at the local YMCA. Upon returning, Beaver said, "I felt so much better when I could return to my routine of exercising."

Following her surgery, Spellman knew Beaver would need radiation as part of her treatment, so he referred her to the appropriate specialist for further consultation. Beaver saw Dr. Jennifer Hung, Tunnell Cancer Center radiation oncologist, for her radiation treatments, which started around a month after the surgery. She felt OK after the surgery, but during her first trip to Beebe Healthcare's Tunnell Cancer Center for her radiation treatments, she recalls feeling sad and overwhelmed when looking around and seeing others in the waiting area who were so sick.

"I felt so blessed my cancer was caught so early. When the 3D mammogram picked it up, it was found at Stage 0," said Beaver. Her radiation treatment took place over about four weeks. Although it can make patients tired, she continued with her exercise classes.

"I recommend to everyone, put exercise on your calendar, and make it a daily priority," says Beaver.

After the radiation treatment was over, her body felt run-down; her immune system was low, and she knew she had to rebuild. Despite the fatigue, she kept pushing herself.

She wanted to continue with her instructional classes, since she realized the importance of being around people for the camaraderie and support as well as having a regular routine.

"Exercise has always been a pillar in my life, helping me keep my mind, spirit and body energized to get through the battle of cancer. I also benefitted enormously from the camaraderie, encouragement and support from those in my classes," said Beaver.

"It's been a year now since my diagnosis and I feel great," said Beaver. "Admittedly, I do still get a little nervous when I get my mammogram every six months, but I am looking to the future."

She said, "Through my cancer journey, I have become a better listener and developed greater empathy for what others are going through. To my fellow cancer survivors: We got through this, and are stronger because of it."

New beginnings and giving back

The Y and Livestrong have joined together to create Livestrong at the YMCA, a research-based physical activity and well-being program designed to help adult cancer survivors reclaim their total health. The program begins this month. Cindy Beaver will be one of the certified Livestrong coaches at the Sussex Family YMCA.

"I'd like to help others in their journey, as they reach their inner grit and grace. I am excited about becoming a Livestrong coach at the local Sussex YMCA. The program is aimed at assisting those who are living with, through or beyond cancer and to strengthen their spirit, mind and body," says Beaver.

All participants have to be cleared to participate in physical activity, and cleared by their medical provider. Focusing on the whole person and not the disease, this 12-week program meets twice a week for 90 minutes, using traditional exercise methods to ease participants back into fitness and help maintain healthy habits. The Livestrong course will be offered from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Thursdays at the Sussex Family YMCA. For more information, contact Tricia Jefferson at tjefferson@ymcade.org or 302-571-6998 or go to www.ymcade.org.

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