Where do compassion, empathy, inclusion, relationship-building and empowerment come together? According to Duane Dunbar and Cindy Smith, the answer is: during the Livestrong program at the Boothbay Region YMCA. Dunbar and Smith are two of the nine graduates of the Boothbay Region YMCA’s first session of Livestrong at the YMCA.
When asked, Livestrong instructor and cheerleader of the group, Lori Murray told us, “Livestrong is the best thing this Y has ever done.”
Livestrong at the YMCA is a 12-week, small group program designed for adult cancer survivors. This program fulfills the important need of supporting the increasing number of cancer survivors who find themselves in the transitional period between completing a cancer treatment and the shift to feeling physically and emotionally strong enough to attempt to return to a normal life or a “new normal.” The program is conducted outside of medical facilities to emphasize that Livestrong at the YMCA is about health, not disease.
Our goal is to help participants build muscle mass and muscle strength, increase flexibility and endurance and improve functional ability. Additional goals include reducing the severity of therapy side effects, preventing unwanted weight changes and improving energy levels and self esteem.
A final goal of the program is to assist participants in developing their own physical fitness program so they can continue to practice a healthy lifestyle, not only as part of their recovery, but as a way of life. In addition to the physical benefits, the program provides participants a supportive environment and a feeling of community with their fellow survivors, YMCA staff and members.
Both Dunbar and Smith said they were coming to the Y to work out maybe three or so days a week. Since being part of Livestrong at the YMCA, they now make it a point to exercise at the Y six and sometimes seven days a week.
“Everybody has a story,” Dunbar said. “If you can understand a person’s story, you can understand the person. All of us have gone through treatments such as surgery, chemo and radiation. Livestrong got us back into society and out of the house. Personally speaking, I am now exercising more and enjoying the social aspect of the YMCA as well.”
Melissa Hake, one of the Y’s Livestrong instructors, breaks down the program into a simple format. The group meets twice a week for 12 weeks. The first week consists of getting to know one another and individual assessments. Throughout the next two weeks we introduce the cardio equipment, Cybex weight machines and stretching exercises. During the rest of the program we focus on cardio and strength building while making adjustments along the way. We also explore different class and exercise styles such as PIYO and Yoga and engage with guest speakers who present on a wide variety of topics. The 12th week of the program is devoted to post-assessments and a final celebration.
“I wish we had taken a group photo the first day of Livestrong and compared it with a photo taken during the last week,” Hake said. “The smiles at the end, on behalf of the entire group says it all.”
Mike Maxim, another Livestrong instructor, added, “at the beginning you see many highs and many lows within the participants. Watching how this changed over the 12-weeks was incredible. At the end, all participants came to a level of positivity that was equal.”
Dunbar and Smith both agree that Livestrong is not simply about a fitness class. “The program is geared for all levels of ability,” they said after graduating. “It’s a progression process which allows for exposure to all types of physical activity.”
Smith added, “It’s also not a pity party. It’s empowering and it’s about moving forward and not looking in the rear view mirror. Everyone in the group was very respectful of one another.”
The next session of Livestrong at the YMCA begins the week of March 4.
“My role in the process is intake,” said Carrie Eason, Y staff and Livestrong team member. “Anyone who is interested in participating in Livestrong at the YMCA meets with me first. The information I garner from the participants is shared with the instructors so they can tailor the program to both the individuals and the groups’ needs.”
Eason went on to say, “The one common theme is cancer. However, there is a huge range of ways each individual handles it and what their outlook is. The beauty of this program is that it works with each and every one of them.”
What happens when the 12 weeks is over? The goal is that each graduate continues on with what they learned and their body, mind and spirit reaps the benefits.
“What we plan to do is offer a graduate program,” Executive Director Andy Hamblett said. “The idea is to bring the graduates back together (perhaps as soon as this summer or fall) and create a program around what worked best for them and is inclusive of all Livestrong participants. The hope is that graduates who so desire, become mentors through the graduate program.”
Intake for the next session of Livestrong at the YMCA is happening now. If you are a cancer survivor and are interested in learning more about Livestrong at the Y, please contact Carrie Eason at 207-633-2855 or firstname.lastname@example.org. March 4 is just around the corner.