YMCA helps cancer survivors live strong

Pictured are YMCA Senior Program Director David Cox and Livestrong coach Kathy Bement.

The Monroe County YMCA recently reintroduced a fitness and wellness program intended to help cancer patients and survivors recover from the physical strain that treatment puts them through.

YMCA Senior Program Director David Cox said the Livestrong program was started several years ago but had to be placed on hold during the height of COVID precautions.

“It’s something that we, especially post-COVID and reopening, we’ve really made an effort to get it going,” Cox said.

As Livestrong coach and certified personal trainer Kathy Bement described, participants start out slow following an assessment to gauge where they’re at physically.

Bement said the group, which currently consists of three individuals, meets twice a week. Livestrong sessions involve a variety of activities at the YMCA, including making use of weights and cardio machines and coming together for exercises to work on balance, core and flexibility.

Recently, the group has also spoken with a dietician to address dietary wellness along with physical health.

Susan Jones, one of the participants in this first group, spoke highly about the program. Jones said she feels as though she’s roughly back to where she wanted to be in terms of health and physical ability.

Livestrong, Jones said, has been very beneficial for her as a source of motivation to get herself fit.

“It’s been a kickstart to getting off the couch and getting fit, getting motivated to be healthier, be better,” Jones said. “I think without it, I would be trying to do stuff on my own, but I probably wouldn’t. It’d be hit and miss.”

Jones added a specific example of her personal progress. A mile, she said, previously took her 30 minutes to walk. That time has since come down to about 15 minutes.

Debbie, another participant who asked to be identified only by her first name, echoed this sentiment.

She noted that a worry for her as she originally wanted to exercise was going overboard and injuring herself.

“I just needed somebody, like this program, to help me get started, to watch me do it so that I knew that I was doing it right and that I wasn’t gonna hurt myself,” Debbie said. “It really has gotten me very motivated. With the program, it always makes me want to come in because I’m not gonna not come for the class. I love it too much.”

Bement and Cox described the class both as a way for those like Debbie and Jones – who have dealt with various amounts of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy – to recover strength while also getting support from those in a similar position.

“The whole gist of it is to get some fitness back again, help reduce that cancer-related fatigue,” Bement said. “But another part of it is being with other people who have gone through what you’ve gone through as well. And that’s a key part of it. They can talk to each other and ask each other questions, and that happens a lot.”

Cox noted the trio were somewhat standoff-ish at the start of the program, but now frequently chat about their health and other matters together while they exercise.

He also spoke proudly about other particulars of the program, such as the fact participants receive free YMCA memberships during the program thanks to donations.

Cox and Bement also noted the program is meant to be flexible. While the current participants ended up being in generally the same state of physical fitness in the beginning, Bement said they are able to work at their own level as the program has more of a focus on guidance than a strict regiment.

Cox added the differences in treatment cancer survivors have undergone can have a major difference in what they’re able to do in the beginning, but the program is meant to assist them regardless of their status.

“We have the program,” Cox said. “We have the tools and the ability to help them and coach them along no matter what level they’re at. There are some people that have had the radiation and chemo, and they snapped right out of it. There are others that have had multiple surgeries and they’re gonna be a little bit, you know, it’s gonna take a little bit longer to get them going, but we have the ability and the know-how to do so. Kathy’s a great instructor. She’s certified. She knows what she’s doing.”

Looking ahead, Cox said similar programs are planned, with the start of a program meant to assist those suffering from Parkinson’s set to start later this year.

Regarding the Livestrong program, the current group is set to finish up in July with a second group – currently with six on the waitlist – starting in May.

Cox said those interested in participating can contact him at david.cox@gwrymca.org. Participation requires a doctor’s permission.

Both Debbie and Jones highly recommended the program for anyone in a position similar to theirs.

“I would encourage anyone who has had any form of cancer to investigate because it is phenomenal,” Jones said. “I tell everybody that I know.”

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web