For cancer survivors, going through a combination of surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation or other treatment can take an incredible toll on their physical and mental well-being. The journey to remission can be a daunting, uphill climb that leaves a person drained of any strength or stamina they once might’ve had. Battling that and helping cancer survivors get healthy together is the La Porte County YMCA and their LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program.
LIVESTRONG at the YMCA was developed by the YMCA of the USA and the LIVESTRONG® Foundation, and launched at the La Porte County Family YMCA in March of 2016. It is intended to help adults reclaim their health and well-being following a cancer diagnosis. The program is completely free of charge so as not to contribute to the financial challenges that often accompany a cancer diagnosis.
LIVESTRONG at the YMCA recently wrapped up its third session, and over the last year the program has received excellent feedback from participants. In speaking with some of those participants, it’s easy to see how their positive outlook, shared goals and experiences have brought these survivors together.
Back in 2009, Nancy Brinklow was diagnosed with breast cancer which led to her receiving radiation treatments as well as a lumpectomy. Brinklow made a full recovery but in December of 2016 she found out that she had hairy cell leukemia for which she had chemotherapy.
“I thought, ‘Oh no, not again!“ Brinklow said. “About a month ago, I had a bone marrow biopsy and it was clear so I’m in remission. It’s just so awesome! Dr. Kang (La Porte Hospital) was very hopeful and he said that this was a very treatable cancer. He was very positive which really helped.”
In speaking about the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA group, Brinklow said, “This group is so supportive. They have just been wonderful! Every bit of good news that each person gets, everybody is just so glad about it, and if it’s bad news we’re all sad together.”
“I can’t say enough good things about the instructors (at the YMCA), Tara (Haack) and Elizabeth Downs, who are amazing people,” Brinklow added. “The doctor visits kind of take over your life so not only was this really helpful physically, but this was a real shot in the arm mentally. This was something that I could control. I could see improvement and I felt stronger. I’m just amazed at what I’ve been able to do!”
Dan Flodder, a La Porte resident since 1975, found out he had esophageal cancer in September of 2015. For Flodder, it was an eye-opener. Within a week, he was started on chemotherapy and radiation, and after three doses of chemotherapy and 28 doses of radiation, Flodder’s next step was surgery. Luckily, the surgery went well and, since January 2016, he’s been in remission.
“I mentioned to my oncologist that I wanted to get into shape and he referred me to one of his assistants who said, “Oh! LIVESTRONG at the YMCA,’ and she gave me a sheet of information,” Flodder said of first getting involved with the group.
“It’s just been a fabulous experience,” Flodder continued. “I look forward to it; we all do! As Elizabeth has pointed out, we’ve missed very few sessions between all of us. It makes you feel good to build up a little bit of strength and stamina, which was my goal.”
Along with his wife and family, Flodder counts his fellow LIVESTRONG at the YMCA Group members as friends with whom he’s been able to lean on and bond with over the several months they’ve spent getting healthy together.
“It’s been a really positive experience,” he said. “It’s nice to have people around who know what you’re talking about when you say, ‘Oh I just don’t feel well today.’ I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for a single person living alone to go through the experience. It’s so nice to have people around that you could talk to and we’ve all been, kind of, crying because it’s our last week.”
Michigan City native, Tammy Ohl, found out in 2016 that she had breast cancer. After a little under a year-long process of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, Ohl is now in remission. She credits her faith and her family, both relatives and her church-family, as a big part of what got her through the experience.
After a year of battling cancer, Ohl could feel the impact that it had on her physically and mentally. “All of those different treatments were necessary but they definitely took a toll,” she said.
When reflecting on the positive impact that the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program has had, Ohl said, “It’s been really instrumental in getting strong again. The long-term benefit has been that the physical activity becomes a habit now. I can’t say enough about the folks organizing the program because they were just so encouraging. It really makes the entry from cancer treatment back into life so much easier.”
“Everyone has been through similar paces so it is good to have each other,” Ohl said of going through the program with fellow survivors. “One thing that I think people struggle with is, for that year, the treatment is so intensive. Your family, your life all revolve around that treatment. Everything changes so on the last day of your treatment you’re done. You’re not seeing the same people that you did on a daily basis, and it becomes, ‘What do you do now?’ This has been a great transition.”
Overcoming cancer can be an incredible challenge and getting back on your feet after going into remission isn’t always easy. The LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program is making those steps back to normalcy, and getting healthy, a team effort. If you’re a cancer survivor and you’re interested in the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA group, visit: www.lpymca.org/