The YMCA Livestrong Program for Cancer Survivors

Recently I officially graduated from the Livestrong at the YMCA exercise program. I promised my instructors, as well as myself, that I would write a post about the Livestrong program upon my completion. So here goes…

For people like myself (the non-athletic type), signing up for any type of group exercise program is no easy thing to convince yourself to do.

When I was a kid, I loathed phyed class and literally jumped for joy when I was no longer required to take one. Luckily, all through my school days, I had loyal friends who kindly chose me to me on their teams. I avoided participating in sports then. I still do.

This does not mean I do not exercise. Heck, three years ago, days before my bilateral mastectomy, I participated in a 10K during the Fargo Marathon event. To this day, I’m not quite sure how I pulled that one off so close to my surgery. I crossed the finish line again a year later.

These days, mostly, I’m a walker. I walk my dogs or I walk on my treadmill.

But back to Livestrong…

I am not a fan of Lance Armstrong. I’ve never really had any opinions about the guy. I don’t care about his sport. I don’t care about his marriage breakup or the time he spent dating Sheryl Crow. I don’t care much about his Tour de France records standing or falling. I did not watch his interview with Oprah. I just don’t and never have formulated opinions about him or what he does/does not do.

Does the fact he disappointed so many people who do care about these things matter?

Sure it does; disappointing people is always tough for those on both sides of the disappointment aisle.

Last winter, when all the stuff about Lance was going down, a family member said to me, “Well of course, all the cancer survivors are standing behind Livestrong.”

Well, why not?

I stand behind Livestrong as well. I can easily separate Lance Armstrong the man from Livestrong, the foundation he began.

One thing I can say with certainty is that the free YMCA Livestrong exercise program for cancer survivors was a genuine gift that I was very grateful to have received. Every cancer survivor participant I have spoken with has said the same.

After a cancer diagnosis, during treatment and for a long time after (if you’re lucky enough to have an after treatment time), a person is very often weakened not only emotionally, but physically as well. I know I was and still am. Treatments can knock a person down. For me, my stamina, range of motion, flexibility and weight have all been dramatically affected.

The Livestrong program recognizes this knock down that the body takes following a diagnosis, but not in a condescending let’s feel sorry for the cancer people kind of way.

The instructors, at least mine, treated every participant with exceptional “normal-ness”.

My class had a team of floating instructors who gave each participant individualized advice, instruction, and encouragement. They pushed, but not too hard. They encouraged, but not in a patronizing manner. They offered instruction without pressure to perform in any certain way. They accepted each person’s ability level without judging. They offered compassion without pity. They were just really nice and more importantly,  genuinely helpful in trying to help each participant achieve her/his personal goals.

At my pre-admittance to the program interview, I also was given two binders generously filled with useful information about cancer and cancer resources. I was a bit past the need for this, but still have found them to be useful and informative. It’s nice to have these guides handed to you all nicely organized and ready to use. They are another perk of this program for sure.

If you decide to take advantage of this wonderful program in your community, before beginning you will need permission from your oncologist, or some doctor, to participate. You will be given a brief evaluation (not threatening at all and no scale involved!) of your physical abilities so your progress can be tracked. You will fill out a few forms. You will be asked a few general questions about your cancer and such.

Here’s the really great part – you will not be charged anything at all! This program is completely free.

Also, while participating in the Livestrong program not only do you get to take this class for free, you and all of family members living with you; get to use the entire YMCA facility free of charge for four whole months.

How great is that?

This commitment alone speaks volumes about Livestrong, the organization.

When your twelve-week class ends, once again there will be the follow-up forms, evaluations and maybe even a party! It’s fun to see proof on paper that you actually have improved.

Unfortunately, another observation I must also share is that my class slowly dwindled in numbers. This was due mostly to the nature of cancer. Several participants had to pull out and return to vigorous treatment regimens.

Such is life in Cancer Land.

It’s also worth noting that each week stories were shared and friendships developed. We did more than just exercise together; we listened to and cared about one another.

As for my own personal fitness goals, admittedly gains I made were very small. The scale numbers didn’t shift much in the right direction either. But that’s okay.

Small steps count too.

So, if you have ever thought about participating in your local YMCA’s Livestrong program, go ahead and sign up. You won’t be sorry you did! For more information, click here.

Finally, in case any of my wonderful Livestrong instructors are reading, I want to say, thank you. You guys and this program are great!

Have you ever participated in the Livestrong program?

How has your body taken a “hit” physically post diagnosis?

What’s your favorite form of exercise?

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The YMCA Livestrong Program for Cancer Survivors

22 thoughts to “The YMCA Livestrong Program for Cancer Survivors”

  1. Good to hear, Nancy. As a PT, I’m of course skeptical of onc rehab being taught by non-professional volunteers. But perhaps I will do some ‘research’ & take part in one of these just to see for myself.

    1. At the YMCA where Nancy participated, all instructors are experienced and certified personal trainers and have also been specifically certified to work with survivors. Speaking for myself only, I have 17 years experience in a combination of personal training, group exercise, Livestrong Program Coordinator, and group exercise instructor training. My colleagues have similar credentials. I am happy you brought that up, as many may not be aware of the instructor requirements! It is a wonderful program!

    2. Kathi, You should sign up and give it a try. As Laurie said in her comment, the instructors, at least at my facility, are all well trained.

  2. Thanks for your write up, Nancy. I too believe strongly in the Livestrong Foundation and am glad that Lance has distanced himself from the organization he founded. I’m a tennis player and was lucky enough to play twice a week during my chemo treatment but had to stop during radiation because of fatigue (due to the fact that a new thyroid condition wasn’t diagnosed). It’s so important to exercise and this Livestrong program sounds great!

    1. Vicki, Tennis is a wonderful sport – another one I have not taken up! Good for you for playing through chemo. Are you playing regularly again now? Thanks for taking time to comment. This really is a terrific program and yes, exercise is always so important.

    2. Hi, vicki.
      I just saw your post. I too had a thyroid condition that was only diagnosed after I failed to improve after all of my treatments were complete. I believe all Cancer patients should be tested for thyroid issues as the symptoms of a poor functioning thyroid mirror the symptoms caused by the treatments.
      Hope you continue to do well. I just started the Livestrong program at the YMCA. So grateful.

  3. being a LPN who worked in Hospice and also a certified fitness instructor I meet & have met people directly impacted by CA and the loved ones who are also impacted. I am so Greatful that the YMCA has Live Strong. My Husband had Ca yrs ago when there was no such program. So Thank You to all the instructors and the YMCA for recognizing the Need for such a program. sincerely, Pat

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with others. We have expanded this program already for 2013 and hope to reach even more cancer survivors in the years to come! Best to you on your recovery.

    1. Livestrong Foundation, You’re very welcome. It was my pleasure to share about such a terrific program. I’m so glad I was able to participate. Thank you for all your foundation does to support cancer survivors and their families. It means a lot to many.

  5. Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your experience with the Livestrong program. It sounds really great, and I’m sure you did fine.

    Walking is an excellent exercise and so soothing. Like you, I’m a walker. I’ve been swimming for awhile now, though I am no Michael Phelps. I’m not even a good swimmer, just know one stroke: the breaststroke. How ironic!

    1. Beth, It is hard to beat walking isn’t it? It’s my kind of exercise! I’m envious of swimmers such as yourself, that’s such a wonderful form of exercise. And yes, it is ironic that the breast stroke is your stroke! Thank you so much for commenting, Beth.

  6. Your experience sounds great. I do Silver Sneakers. Free for retired people with certain health insurances. I also walk with my puppy. We are working on heel so she doesn’t trip me!

    1. Betty, I really did have a good experience. I can’t say enough about this program. I have heard of the Silver Sneakers program. It’s nice to know that’s free as well, at least for some. I am picturing you walking that new puppy right now! What fun. Thank you for commenting.

  7. Nancy, as you know I just started the “Stronger Together” program at the Y. It is a program being offered to Livestrong alumni in my city. I am not sure if this is something that is local or if it is a nationwide extension of the Livestrong program. It has been 2 years since I finished the Livestrong program. I kept up my exercising afterward until I had my reconstructive surgery and then my reoccurence. This Stonger Together program is just what I needed to get me going again! We started slowly with chair yoga and stretching. I go again tonight and am so looking forward to it. I would (and often do) recommend Livestrong to anyone who will listen!
    Sidenote Nancy… I had troubles with my feet when I was in the program. I found the stationary bikes were the best. I got a great workout and it didn’t hurt my feet!

    1. Barb, I am so glad you have this option to “get you going again”! I loved the YMCA Livestrong program I participated in and I met some wonderful people – which was almost better than the exercise part. And thanks for the tip. I am using a stationery bike these days. Plus a bit of time on a treadmill. Hubby and I finally joined a club because I/we had to try something that might help and be more doable. Good luck with the “Stronger Together” program. Keep me posted on things! Thanks for reading and sharing, Barb.

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