Monday, March 18, 2013

Living STRONG at the YMCA with Cancer

In early February 2013 I was approved for a program called LiveSTRONG at the Y. It’s designed to help cancer survivors rebuild their lives, their bodies, and their spiritual strength with careful planning and assistance from experienced physical exercise professionals.

LiveSTRONG at the Y, associated with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, partners with the YMCA in offering a twelve week full-family YMCA membership so the entire family can use the Y’s facilities to strengthen their mind, body and spirit together.

Our first meeting was an overview of the program and our introduction to each other – thirteen cancer survivors who would be united for twelve weeks in strengthening their lives.

We introduced ourselves by mentioning one thing about our lives that we wanted the group to know. Every person has a different type of cancer, and a different prognosis. Some are now cancer free; others are continuing their treatments; still others have incurable cancer and will live with it forever.

We were led through a series of questions that revealed even more about our feelings and emotions. Using a set of photographs we selected pictures that reflected our feelings about what our lives were like before cancer; what we felt like when we first found out we had cancer; and what we want our lives to be like from now on.

Thirteen different experiences and points of view crossed the emotional spectrum from laughter to tears. Our lighthearted beginning laughter gradually grew to emotional tears because each of us realized that our lives and the lives of every family represented in this room have forever been affected. No one in this room would ever be in the world without cancer. No one’s life would ever be the same as before.

These icebreaking techniques were light, entertaining, and helped each of us to slowly and gracefully reveal how we felt when we first learned that we had cancer. For instance, my cancer surgery was in March of 2011, (I’m pretty sure that each of us remember their surgical date.)Some of those emotions have been glossed-over or forgotten. The exercises helped me bring many of those thoughts back to the surface so I could deal with them. Might as well, I'm one of the incurable ones.

Some of us are more aware of our fight than others. For instance, one of us missed a session because his chemotherapy treatment had made him so ill that he was in bed for four days. His first day back he was pale and moved slowly but he seemed to complete his exercises and even passed me on the track; and I thought I was moving faster than usual. I have personally met a true fighter and an honored friend.

LiveSTRONG at the YMCA is the only cancer survivor group I’ve been in and I find it engaging. I find my mates to be strong, inspiring, helpful, and spiritual people. Spirituality comes to the forefront when you’re life depends on successful surgeries and continued medical care. I've always been a deeply spiritual person although not necessarily a Christian. Oddly, before surgery I prayed to and accepted prayers from every source. It worked because I'm here today. Now I live in a state of thankfulness.

The only cancer support group available at the Cancer Center is for breast cancer survivors. It breaks my heart that there are so many breast cancers but more than that my heart breaks because there are so many types of cancers. I had no idea -- that is before I became one of them.

Before we began the LiveSTRONG program each of us was given a questionnaire about our cancer, medications, and over-all health. Our responses helped the YMCA instructors get to know us, our medications, and our relationship with cancer.

Our second meeting was when the work began. With information garnered from our questionnaire the Y instructors created workouts for each of us that would benefit our individual physical levels; they took into account our medications and physical activities.

For the next twelve weeks we will meet on Tuesdays and Thursday in the second floor Conference Room where our pulse is noted on our charts. Next we will do a warm-up exercise then we go to work. Half of us head to the track for our prescribed walk, while the other half goes to the weight room.

Did I mention that at least one Y instructor, usually two or more, is with us at all times? Yes, we are in excellent hands. I’ve never had such a feeling of care at an exercise facility before. We have to be on our toes too because they’ll randomly stop us to take our pulse (and note it) so we can see how we’re progressing. The instructors are always present to help us adjust equipment, to offer exercise advice, to talk with us to make sure our breathing is appropriate, and to take our pulse (I seek out the Warm-Handed One whenever possible.)

So far we’ve warmed up, walked the track, worked out on the cardio equipment and weights then stretched out to cool off. We close each meeting with a reflection question helping us to slow down mentally as well as physically.

We’ve been working out with weights but next week we’ll exercise in a different way. Our instructor explained that we would meet in a different exercise room and that we would be doing the Zumba workout followed by an extended stretch out session. A voice from the crowd said, “Is there a pole involved?” Following a long deserved choir of laughter we were assured that "there was no pole involved."

Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed more laughter among the group. This tells me that we’re getting to know each other. We’re all more playful and more relaxed with each other.

Clearly our sense of humor is intact. Everyone needs to maintain a sense of humor when cancer is involved.


  1. Thank you very much for being so open and honest.

  2. You're most welcome. It took several days to write it because different thoughts kept surfacing. Guess that's what supposed to happen. Thanks for reading it. Hope it helped you 'get' what cancer survivors are going through.