Feeling Better in Body and Spirit

Livestrong Brings Survivors Together at the YMCA

By KAREN BJORNLAND Photos by LAWRENCE WHITE

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Brain cancer, colon cancer, breast and prostate cancer. It doesn’t matter what kind of cancer you are dealing with, or when you did your treatment.

Every survivor is welcome at Livestrong, a 12-week fitness program at the Saratoga Regional YMCA.

“We’ve seen a wide range of cancers and ages. They come out with a new view, new friends, new abilities,” says Jenny Killian, membership director for the Saratoga YMCA.

The free program, which is offered at YMCAs in 32 states, is funded with a grant from the Livestrong Foundation, a nonprofit founded by cancer survivor and former champion bike racer Lance Armstrong.

At twice-a-week classes with specially trained coaches, men and women dressed in bright yellow T shirts are introduced to just about every fitness activity the YMCA offers, including cycle training, Zumba, exercise equipment, yoga and walking on outdoor trails.

The Saratoga Regional YMCA was the first in the Capital Region to win a Livestrong grant.

After the first group of six cancer patients graduated in February 2013 from the Saratoga Springs branch, Livestrong was soon offered at the Malta and Wilton branches. Last year, the Battenkill branch in Greenwich got on board.

More than 200 cancer survivors have completed Livestrong at Saratoga Regional YMCA facilities.

When Saratoga Living visited a Saratoga Springs class in its 11th week, the five women and four men were eager to talk about Livestrong.

While the classes are focused on exercise at whatever level the survivor can do, informal conversations and encouraging words from coaches and survivors are part of the experience.

“You look forward to coming for the camaraderie. It helps you feel that you’re not alone,” says Rob Haren, 62, who works as a chef in Saratoga Springs and was diagnosed with prostate cancer a year ago. “I told my doctor I was going to Livestrong, and he was so happy.” Haren has lost weight and gained muscle during the program.

“It’s fantastic,” says 79-year-old Patty LeRoy of Ballston Spa, a survivor of breast and lung cancers who is a longtime Fresh Air Fund volunteer. “The people are great, the staff is great. Everyone is so supportive.”

Even if you don’t talk about cancer, there’s a psychological benefit to exercising together, she says. “And I think it’s nice, the different ages here.”

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Deborah Kozlowski, a Porter Corners acupuncturist who was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and is still recovering from surgery, says she got a needed boost. “The biggest change for me was mental. This takes away the victim mentality.”

Randi Kish of Saratoga Springs, a ceramic artist and retired art teacher, decided to join Livestrong even though her breast cancer happened more than 20 years ago, when she was 41 years old.

“I wish I had this when I was in the midst of things. I never had the support. I had young children. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.”

It’s never too late to connect with other cancer patients, she says. “This experience has been mind blowing for me.”

The coaches, two for every group, push the cancer patients to get stronger physically, each at their own pace.

“The coaches are in awe of the survivors and what they can do, but treat them as regular people with a need to increase their health and wellness. They are very committed,” says Killian.

Dan Lynch and Lauren Frankford are the coaches for this class. “It’s about taking control of your body,” says Frankford. “You push the illness to the wayside for an hour.”

Lynch has been a Livestrong coach for more than four years. “You CAN build yourself up again,” he says. “One of the biggest things I hear is about the mental battle—it’s getting off the couch.”

WHERE TO FIND SUPPORT

Look Good, Feel Better: Free program for women dealing with hair loss and skin changes, Saratoga Hospital. (518) 886-5648.

Surviving to Thriving: Support group for survivors of all cancers, 6 p.m. second Tuesday of the month, Spring Street Gallery.

Breast Cancer Support Group: Survivors, family members and caregivers, 5:30 p.m. third Tuesday of the month, Mollie Wilmot Radiation Oncology Center.

Face 2 Face: Young breast cancer survivors, 6 p.m. last Tuesday of the month, Saratoga Hospital.

Cancer Support Group: Pierre Zimmerman of One Roof Holistic Health Center is group leader, 12 p.m. fourth Wednesday of the month, Saratoga Hospital. Register by calling (413) 992-7012.

Complimentary massage therapy: Second and fourth Thursday of the month, (518) 886-5648. 

Livestrong at the YMCA: Free fitness program for cancer survivors age 18 and up, Saratoga Regional YMCA, (518) 583-9622.

To Life! Boutique: Mastectomy bras and prostheses, wigs and headscarves 110 Spring St. By appointment, (518) 587-3820.

For more information, visit Saratoga Regional YMCA, srymca.org, To Life!, tolife.org and Saratoga Hospital, saratogahospital.org.