Thriving with a little help from some YMCA friends

YMCA Member and employee Joan Tobin with her Aqua Fitness class at Upper Main Line YMCA

Cancer. The six-letter word that can turn your life upside down. The one word that can beat you up physically and emotionally, but can also help you find inner strength and support from unexpected places.

Joan Tobin was given a cancer diagnosis in May 2010. She was told she was in stage one of a very aggressive form of breast cancer.

The mother of a ten-year-old boy and nine-year-old girl went from disbelief, to shock, to crying and anger – a roller coaster of emotions.

Where to turn? “My son’s teacher and a group of women from my class at the Upper Main Line YMCA (UMLY) were – and are to this day - my angels,” says Joan.

YMCA roots

Joan started working at UMLY in September 2006 as a swim instructor. The part-time job was just what she needed to bring in a little extra money but still be available for her children. Two years later, after subbing and taking the needed classes, she got her own Aqua Fit classes.

The gregarious 50-something really enjoyed teaching and pushing her classes. After that fateful day, she discovered that many of the women she taught had or knew someone who had cancer. “They knew what I needed more than I did!” says Joan with awe. “It was so comforting,” she continued, “to have someone there who knew what I was feeling … and was open to praying.”

Tough road

Joan had surgery and 35 rounds of radiation, but “that was a walk in the park compared to the four rounds of chemo,” she declares. “I was so sick on those days. I couldn’t even stand the smell of food.” The teacher and women from the Y set up a schedule. They drove her to her treatments when her husband was unavailable, babysat her children, made ready-to-go breakfasts, lunches and dinners and even cleaned her house.

“They really thought of everything,” says Joan, “even little things. They sent cards and emails. It really lifted my spirits, especially when I was having a bad day, to open my mail box and find a letter of encouragement in there!”

She went back to teaching her classes when she could, which at times was about half of her scheduled classes. “My Y boss was very supportive. She knew I missed teaching, so she let me do it when I could. Those classes fed my soul,” she explains.

Finding happiness

Today, eight years after her initial diagnosis, Joan is cancer free and trying new things! “Going through all I have been through and being over 50, I only want to do things that bring me joy,” she exclaims.

Four years ago, Joan began taking voice lessons, then joined the UMLY Community Theater for their production of The Wizard of Oz in 2015. Guess who played the Cowardly Lion? It was Joan, “and I loved every second of it!” To this day, she continues to perform or volunteer behind the scenes on every production.

Last May, she joined the YMCA staff full-time. “My husband wanted me to get a full-time job, but for me, it had to be the right one, and working at the Y brings me joy!”

“I have had so much fun,” Joan continues. “I love working with marketing and others in addition to my daily duties, and since I am based at UMLY, I still get to see my people!”


Her stint with the theater gave her an idea of her ultimate dream job, or bucket list item. “I would love to see UMLY build a theater of their own and I would run it – not directing the shows, but handling the scheduling of the building, budgets … all the background things that need to be done.”

And bringing the joy she craves to the benefit of others.

Category: Y Stories