Boothbay Region YMCA: Catalyst for Good

Collective Strength

Sat, 05/25/2024 - 8:45am

Laughter was the last thing I expected when I visited the “LiveSTRONG at the Y” program, a gathering for individuals undergoing treatment for cancer. Yet joy permeated the room. Vulnerability, too. Determination most of all. No one was shy about their involvement in the cancer survivorship offering. “We want to live,” one participant said. Another offered: “Some days, just getting up and getting dressed is all I can manage for the day.” All agreed. Yet they attend LiveSTRONG at the Y because they feel better after their twice-weekly sessions.  

LiveSTRONG at the Y meets for 12 weeks. There’s a spring and fall cohort. Participants are guided by the extraordinary care and attention of Deb and Lori, volunteers who run the program with passion and compassion. As co-leaders, Deb and Lori monitor each individual during the 75- to 90-minutes of cardiovascular, strength training, and balancing exercises. One participant claimed with a laugh: “the treadmill is trying to kill me.” Most agreed. Still, they push themselves because they are accountable to one another, and to their own bodies. All feel strongly that the time spent working out is “enough that you see progress.” And progress matters. “When you’re in treatment you’re losing muscle and bone density so it’s important to work out and build muscle,” a participant explained. Improvement arrives in the form of feeling stronger. Having confident and capable muscle movement. Regaining balance.  

“People I know tell me I look so well or that I’m doing great, but this actually interrupts my healing process. I know they want me to be better, but I don’t feel good. Their words can sometimes add a weight of expectations when I’m already struggling,” one person offered. Others nod in full agreement. “We know our loved ones want us to feel better. Coming here is a way to be in a room with people who understand what it’s like to have cancer,” another added, “and we actually don’t even talk about having cancer.” Laughter and agreement run like a current through the room.  

“I wouldn’t describe this as a cancer program,” one woman said. “I see this as a friendship program. It’s a place where it’s okay to say you’ve had a hard day and know the people with you understand,” one person said. “Yes,” another agrees, “it’s a health program where we hold ourselves accountable and we look out for each other. We’re a social network and we check in with people.” The room is a sway of nodding heads, grateful in their agreement.  

“Finding this program really was my north star,” one participant shared as she held the room rapt in her memory of discovering the Y’s program, “the phenomenal friendships and automatic trust we have with everyone in the room with all the things that are spoken and not spoken—it’s amazing.” 

Participants in the group admit they are fragile and cancer is isolating. They talk about how they are sick and yet also full of life and love. Some are working full-time. Some are parents and grandparents. All are survivors. All members want more people to know about the offering, and how they honor that everyone has a different treatment sequence—complete with good days and awful days. They want others to join the LiveSTRONG at the Y program. They want others fighting cancer to know that joining is free and you don’t have to be a member of the Y to participate. They want readers to know Deb and Lori are supportive and accommodating. Every person starts where they are, does what they can. In this group, there is no place for judgement—only the full embrace of life.