Stronger Every Day


New YMCA program helps cancer survivors gain strength and confidence

By Ann Craig-Cinnamon

When you enter the Fishers YMCA on East 126th St., the first thing you notice is the sound of life. There’s a sense of hustle and bustle, a low din of noise of people moving from one place to another with workouts in progress and physical stimulation. The other thing you notice is a big sign that reads, “YMCA Mission : ‘To put Christian principles into practice through programs that help healthy spirit, mind and body for all.’ It’s that mission that has led the YMCA to partner with the national LiveSTRONG organization and offer a unique, tailored program for cancer survivors. The new “LiveSTRONG at the Y” program is being offered in just 3 YMCA’s in the Indianapolis area and the Fishers Y is one of them. After first testing out a pilot program with eight cancer survivors, the Fishers Y began its first full-fledged class of 9 survivors and 2 caregivers in February.

The class meets twice a week for 90 minutes for 12 weeks. The participants in the current program range in age from 15 to 85 and are all at different stages of their diagnosis and treatment. Several are breast cancer survivors, one has a brain-related cancer and 3 of them have had stem cell transplants. They are referred to the program by organizations such as Cancer Support Community, a cancer support group, and area hospitals, particularly St. Vincent Hospital, which underwrites a large part of the cost.

Marion Fowler, the Senior Sports and Family Director and the LiveStrong program coordinator says, for the survivors, the program is about reclaiming their bodies. “Most everyone who participates has lost confidence in what their body can do and in their body. We’ve got folks that have never worked out in their life, and we’ve got folks that used to run marathons and now they’re trying to see how far they can push their bodies. The program tries to meet them where they are”, says Fowler who adds, “It gives them a little bit of reclamation. They reclaim what they thought either was completely gone or they wished that they had but were so scared to get there. It gives them confidence.”

That confidence is gained in several ways. There is the physical side of the program that is akin to physical therapy in that the participants are taught to use workout equipment in targeted and customized ways. But it is different from physical therapy in that it’s an independent system and the instructors are only there to lead the class.

Another way confidence is gained is through the social interaction provided by the program which Fowler thinks is one of the most important components. “The social part is probably one of the hidden gems of the whole process. In this group, we’re finding that support group is not what they are seeking. But they are seeking similar companionship. So you’ll notice folks that have similar cancer basis gravitate together even in the workout room … like an informal workout program,” said Fowler.

Grace Leon, the 15 year old member of this group, agrees that the interaction with other members of the program is very important to her. “Right now I’m doing online classes. I’m no longer in school. So it’s helping me get out of the house. Although I’m the youngest person here, it’s easy to relate to everyone. So I think it’s kind of nice just having social interaction. And the last couple of months I haven’t been feeling as well as I normally would, so it’s kind of nice to have people who know what I’m going through, because most people my age haven’t had cancer and gone through treatments,” she said.

Melanie Scott, 32, is one of the stem cell transplant patients and agrees that the LiveSTRONG at the Y program is making a huge difference for her. “This program has been an absolute blessing.  I had, I guess they call it, muscle atrophy in medical terms. In my non medical terms I couldn’t walk, talk or move anymore. When you have a transplant, they literally kill you and then bring you back to life. I was in the hospital for 3 months. So the most I could do was walk with a walker to get to my porta potty. That wasn’t really using the walker, it was mostly holding on to my bed. So I needed a program like this because I was a very active person prior to all this happening. Their program is so unique that you can track your progress,” said Scott, whose transplant last July came from the donation of a living baby’s umbilical cord.

There will be more classes rolled out soon and participants do not have to join the YMCA to take part in the program which only costs $25. Fowler says “LiveSTRONG at the Y” fits the mission of the YMCA which is why he is excited to be a part of it. “This has allowed me to experience that mission in full swing. Connecting with these folks has been the highlight of my time here at the Y. And I’ve been here nearly 10 years”.

Fishers YMCA

9012 E 126th St.

Fishers, IN 46038

Phone 595-9622