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February 28, 2021

Livestrong at the YMCA rebuilds bodies and souls after cancer treatment

Livestrong1We are four survivors, and our bodies bear the scars of our struggles.

One was cut across the throat.

Another was sliced through her chest.

The third still has an open hole that was once used to pump poison into her body.

Our other kinsman had to fight his way out twice.

Meet the cancer survivors who join me twice a week for Livestrong at my local YMCA. Over the past few months, we have become physically, emotionally and spiritually stronger than we’ve ever been before.

Livestrong at the YMCA is a free 12-week program that helps adult cancer survivors rebuild their strength after undergoing treatment. While surgery, chemotherapy and radiation saves lives, the treatments often negatively affect the body’s immune system, metabolism, emotion, bone density, heart function, range of motion, and more. The program’s goal is to help survivors counter those side effects by building muscle mass and muscle strength, increasing flexibility and improving quality of life.

It works.

From muscle aches to muscle mass

When I started the program in June, I was experiencing extreme fatigue as well as muscle and joint pain from my thyroid cancer treatment. My body and mind could function for about four hours, but then it needed a few hours of rest, which was very unsettling for me in light of my pre-cancer “take no prisoners” attitude.

The first few sessions were brutal. I couldn’t stop nodding off during our discussion periods nor could I make it through the 20 minutes of cardio and 40 minutes of strength training without yawning every few minutes. Every muscle and joint ached, and I would have to sleep for at least two hours to get over the exertion. Lisa Turner, our group’s fitness instructor, offered encouragement.

“You’re going to get stronger,” she as she checked my form on one of the strength machines. “Keep going. Now PULL those arms back!”

“You’re evil,” I groaned as my muscles protested.

Lisa and other program instructors know what it’s like to work with cancer survivors. They’ve been trained in all elements of cancer, post rehab exercise and post cancer care. In addition, Lisa has a very personal connection with cancer – her father is a thyroid cancer survivor. After working with the program for more than five years, Lisa has had dozens of students graduate from the program. Many keep coming to the YMCA for their workouts, and I’ve met survivors of breast, liver and prostate cancer who are now running half marathons thanks to their start in the program.

As for me and my three friends, we’re not ready for half marathons, but we are ready for enjoying a healthier life. I can now do 30 minutes of cardio, and I’ve built up my weights and reps with strength training. The yawning is gone. My friend and fellow survivor, Santi, was very pale and weak when we started, but today, her skin glows, and her stamina is phenomenal.

Livestrong helps restore the body AND soul

Livestrong at the YMCA helps restore more the body. It also restores the soul.

Lisa, Santi and the rest of my group  listen empathetically when setbacks become too hard to bear alone. We pray over each other’s doctor visitors and lab tests. We worry when someone misses class. We celebrate little victories.

We live strong because there’s no better way to do it.

For more information about Livestrong at the YMCA or to find a program near you, please go to

Notice: This story is based on my own personal experience, and I did not receive compensation or any other benefit from the YMCA or Livestrong Foundation. I wrote about the program simply because it made such a huge difference in my life and I believe it can help others as well.

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