YMCA opens Livestrong program

The Livestrong program for cancer survivors has begun its pilot program at the Warren County YMCA, funded by a Livestrong grant received in April.

Chris Dolan, YMCA health and wellness director, was the driving force in applying for the program, and the grant was written and submitted Kim Slocum, who is the Y’s marketing and grant coordinator.

Dolan also became a cancer exercise specialist through training from the Livestrong Foundation. She said, “It was a long journey for us to get ready to provide services to cancer survivors. I’m used to working with people that are healthy. They come in in pretty decent condition.”

The survivors “come in tired, weak with flexibility issues, with either a weight gain or loss from their treatments,” she added.

Slocum noted that Livestrong is a clearinghouse for cancer information and other assistance, including help with participation in clinical trials.

Dolan said the Y also has other programs for people with limited abilities. “We’re shifting our gears. We are more than steppers and treadmills.”

The Livestrong classes will be twelve weeks long, with twelve participants, although the pilot program will have six or eight participants, and will begin in September. The next 12-week class with twelve survivors will begin in January.

The program is free to participants, although it carries some costs for the Y, which are offset with donations. Slocum said, “One of the exciting things about this is the support from Warren County individuals and businesses. The program includes 12 weeks of full access to the Y for participants and their families, at no charge.

While the class is for the participants only, family members may attend in a support role. Dolan explained, “With 12 participants, we could have 12 separate programs tailored to their individual needs, restrictions and goals.”

“There is a detailed intake process where we meet with each survivor, determine their goals and plan the best course of action,” she added.

Slocum said that they presented the program to Warren General Hospital and the Cancer Center. “They are very excited.” Dolan added, “We couldn’t do it without their support.”

“The cancer survivors will teach us more than we could ever have known,” Slocum noted, and Dolan explained, “I think they’re going to come to the program looking for us to instruct them, but from the stories I’ve heard, they will be a huge inspiration to us.”

They both agreed that, “The attitude you choose makes a difference in your quality of life.”

Jennifer Goerlich, member engagement representative for the program said she makes the initial contact with participants and collects the information for the trainers, so they can design individual programs. she added that she has been encouraged to go into the program with the participants to provide extra support.

Goerlich said that there are additional social activities outside of the physical program, and at the end of the twelve weeks, “there will be a big graduation.”

Slocum added, “The social activities will include art classes, dancing, singing and whatever they want to do.”

She said they are looking for volunteers to help with the program starting in January. “They will be trained, and could work in intake, special activities, work as spotters and share their special skills. They could also become trainers.

The YMCA’s CEO,Thad Turner, noted that there are only three Y’s in Pennsylvania that offer this program.

He said, “Wanting to live a healthy lifestyle isn’t limited to athletes.” He added that the strength of the program is that it integrates the survivors back into a normal life, perhaps healthier than they were before cancer.

Slocum summed it up with a quote from a video: “I went to the cancer center to get well, then came to the Y to heal.”