MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Before her cancer, Lynn Laurel walked 4 miles every day.
Now, about a year after her diagnosis, Laurel is working hard to find her way back to a healthy lifestyle.
“I used to be very energetic,” she said. “I want to get back in shape … but I needed help.”
Laurel is one of six participants in a free YMCA program targeted exclusively at people who are or have been in treatment for cancer and aimed at helping participants with their strength and endurance.
The program, LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, is offered at 211 YMCAs in 39 states and has served about 41,000 cancer patients, according to a YMCA fact sheet.
Amy Cheadle, health and wellness director with the Skagit YMCA, said the program is pitched as a health class but also serves as a place where people who have faced cancer can come together.
The program is free for any adult who is or was in treatment for cancer and comes with a six-month YMCA membership on completion. The group meets for two 90-minute sessions per week for 12 weeks.
“We’re a bit of a support group too,” she said. “We let people make connections and talk to each other.”
In addition to physical fitness, she said they bring in guest speakers to talk about yoga and alternative medicine. Cheadle highlighted a “healing with art” day where the class makes collages and talks about artistic expression as a method of dealing with pain.
While the YMCA has space for 12 participants, she said she hasn’t seen a full class since she started there two years ago.
“It helps them get reintroduced to the world with small, measured steps,” Cheadle said.
During the second session of the twelve-week course, instructors were testing the cardio, strength and balance baselines of the six participants. The same tests will be done after the program to assess growth.
“We literally start with five minutes of cardio and build from there,” Cheadle said, adding that they aim for 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weightlifting by the end of the program.
To get there, she said, instructors use the baseline assessment to build a training regiment, like what a personal trainer would do.
Laurel was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which she said essentially means “a lot of things don’t work on me” when it comes to treatment.
She said she doesn’t talk to anyone about her treatment and has tried to forget the experience.
“When you get that (diagnosis) call … it feels like a death warrant,” said prostate cancer patient Dwyer Dale.
Dale participated in the YMCA’s first Livestrong class three years ago.
When you’re going through or recovering from cancer treatment, he said, it’s hard enough to just get off the couch and out of the house.
Dale was motivated to try the program for help rebuilding strength and endurance. But he ended up seeing the class more as a support group, he said.
“What’s so neat about it is the people,” he said. “You build relationships with people who’ve been through what you’ve been through.”
Dale is one of several former participants who volunteer with the program, offering guidance where they can.
“It was just something I had to do,” Dale said.
Peter Wold, an oncology social worker with Skagit Valley Hospital Regional Cancer Care Center, is a frequent guest speaker and advocate for the program.
“(Cancer) can be a debilitating process,” he said. “You get people who’ve been energetic their whole lives … ending up using a cane.”
A guided introduction to exercise can offer them a bit of control over their lives, Wold said, helping them off the couch and back into the community.
That combination of physical exercise and camaraderie “helps them take charge of their own bodies again,” he said.
In his work at the Cancer Care Center, Wold said he looks for patients who would benefit from the Livestrong program.
“I think there’s room for this program to grow,” he said.
Information from: Skagit Valley Herald, http://www.skagitvalleyherald.com