Cancer survivor: LIVESTRONG changed my life

Published 9:07 am Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Niles resident shares experience with YMCA program

Niles resident Becky Finn was diagnosed with breast cancer on Christmas Eve in 2009.

After undergoing successful surgery to remove the cancer a short time later, Finn said her body began to break down due to lack of use. She wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than a plate for several weeks after the operation and never enrolled in physical therapy.

Becky Finn

Becky Finn

“I didn’t do anything to help myself — I didn’t have the money,” she said. “I was pretty much immobile.”

As atrophy set in, Finn lost range of motion in her arms and strength throughout her entire body. She said a doctor told her that once she hit the two-year mark after her surgery, she would be at her “new normal.”

That’s what she accepted, until a friend recommended LIVESTRONG, a free 12-week program at the Niles-Buchanan YMCA designed to increase the mental, social and physical health of cancer survivors in the greater Niles area.

Finn, 60, graduated from the program a few weeks ago along with six others.

She said she feels like a new person.

“My quality of life prior to LIVESTRONG was OK — at least I thought it was,” Finn said. “LIVESTRONG showed me that there is so much more I can do.”

At the beginning of the program, Finn said she didn’t do well in a physical assessment — chest pressing just 15 pounds and leg pressing only 60 pounds. Three months later, she was chest pressing 45 pounds and leg pressing 180 pounds. She also lost 12.4 pounds.

“I feel so much better,” she said.

Denise Peters, LIVESTRONG project manager, said Finn’s results are typical of the 15 people who have completed the program since its inception in October of 2013.

“It is difficult to describe the tremendous changes these people go through in strength, balance and confidence,” she said. “It is amazing to see the progress.”

Finn’s “ah ha” moment came about halfway through the program when she slipped and fell on some ice in a parking lot. Finn surprised herself by standing up without any help — something she never could’ve done before LIVESTRONG.

“Just getting up off the floor was difficult for me before,” she said.

During the 12-week course, LIVESTRONG participants meet twice a week for an hour and a half at the YMCA. Two trained instructors lead each class, although others are brought in for special exercises, like Yoga.

Each session starts with 15 minutes of social interaction where participants talk about themselves and how they are feeling. Participants then work on their cardiovascular health and strength before finishing with exercises designed to increase flexibility.

Nicole Kellogg, YMCA yoga teacher, served as an instructor for the first 12-week session.

“I saw them (participants) get happier and stronger as time went on — and they didn’t even realize how much progress they were making,” she said. “By the end, they were shocked in a good way to see their numbers.”

In addition to improving physically, Finn said she benefitted from the interaction with other cancer survivors, many of whom she now considers friends.

“They were so encouraging and as I made these tiny steps they cheered me on. It gave me the desire to reach for something further,” she said. “We feel like we are our own support group now.”

Through LIVESTRONG, participants and their families get access to the YMCA at no cost during the program.

“Cancer doesn’t just affect the individual — it affects the whole family,” Peters said.

The YMCA has absorbed the cost of the program — about $500 a participant — during the first two 12-week sessions. Peters said the YMCA hopes to offer the program more often, but would need additional funding to do so.

That’s where Hope Grows comes in.

In an effort to provide greater access to cancer screenings and better care to cancer patients in the greater Niles area, the Lakeland Health Foundation Niles and the Niles-Buchanan YMCA have partnered to create the inaugural Hope Grows fundraising luncheon.

The purpose of the luncheon, which is scheduled for Thursday at the YMCA, is to raise money for two things — Lakeland’s free cancer screening services and LIVESTRONG.

Tickets for the luncheon are sold out, but organizers are still taking donations. Call (269) 927-5145 or visit the website for more information.