Not a death sentence
A free program at the Lee County YMCA is helping cancer survivors learn how to live life after what is often a deadly disease.
Livestrong at the Y, a 12-week program for adult cancer survivors, addresses the physical, mental, emotional and social challenges many survivors face post-treatment.
"You think cancer is a death sentence," said Aubrey Clyde Watson, a survivor of prostate cancer. "It is most definitely not a death sentence. ... Through exercise and a good diet, you can overcome cancer."
Watson participated in the Y's inaugural Livestrong group in 2012. He has been coming to the Y almost every day since then to keep up his exercise routine. Now, instead of ending his workout because of fatigue, he said he usually leaves when he realizes he's late for dinner.
Livestrong trainers Barbara Cotten and Renee Snell just finished a 12-week session with eight participants and are looking forward to the next session, which begins Sept. 9.
"Exercise wards off disease," Cotten said. "It's not about the disease. It's about your health. ... [Livestrong] is not just about working out. It's a whole program for the whole person. It's a community program."
Weights, fixed machines, yoga, tai chi and pilates are just some of the activities Livestrong offers.
"We go on field trips sometimes," Cotten said. "We talk about vitamins and things. We have speakers and instructors come in. ... We have a nutrition class that teaches you how food affects your body."
Snell is not a full-time employee at the Y. She has a special attachment to the Livestrong program and comes in specifically to help train cancer survivors when it's running.
"My dad had cancer 30 years ago," Snell said. "The science just wasn't there. 'Get into a fitness program. Watch what you eat.' No one told him that. Now we have the science. My dad may have ... had a longer life if we had known."
Now, Snell works with other survivors to give them the chance her father never had. And survivors like Watson are grateful for what the program offers.
"You look around, and you're not by yourself," Watson said. "You have help."
Cotten, a retired teacher who taught at Lee County High School for 30 years, maintains that knowledge is power — and attitude is everything.
"Just by instilling those ideas in [Livestrong participants] ... it helps them get back into life," Cotten said.
The Y's wellness director, Valerie Marcy, said a cancer survivor's journey does not end with the completion of treatment, and that many aspects of a survivor's life still are out of balance.
"What I largely saw in cancer survivors was not just a loss of physical ability," Marcy said. "What was important was social interaction. Some [survivors] are far from their families. Their children might not be around. Their spouse may have passed away. ... There's a vacancy there — 'Now what?' I think the Livestrong program helps address that question."
Any cancer survivor interested in signing up for the session beginning Sept. 9 can pick up an application at the Lee County YMCA on Spring Lane.
Eight spots are available for the upcoming session, and registration is free. The group meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. through Nov. 25.
Y membership is not required for participation.
What: Livestrong at the YMCA
When: 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Sept. 9 to Nov. 25.
Where: Lee County YMCA at 860 Spring Lane, Sanford.
Participants must be cancer survivors and receive permission from their doctor to participate. Participation is free, and applications are available at the Lee County YMCA. Participants do not have to be members of the Y to join the program.