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Published on August 29, 2016

Living strongly beyond cancerLiving strongly beyond cancer

I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up for the Livestrong at the YMCA Cape Cod program in Barnstable. Joining a gym and doing exercise has never been my strong suit and to do it with a group of people I had never met was to say the least, a bit unnerving.

All of my concerns were unfounded. The Livestrong at the YMCA program is so much more than going to the gym and exercising. It promotes confidence, inspiration, motivation, and caring.

While I underwent treatment for ovarian cancer two years ago, six months of weekly chemo treatments sapped my strength and energy. There were times when my goal of walking to my mailbox a few hundred feet from my house was the best I could do.

As I slowly recovered, I began walking further and made one mile my goal. My daughter bought me a Fitbit that I wore to record the number of steps I took  towards the goal of 10,000 steps per day. It was slow at first, got better, and, once I started to achieve that goal, the number of steps started to dwindle, as I tired and became less motivated.

Maintaining stamina and strength are still challenges for me.

We Have Become Family

The Livestrong at the YMCA program has helped me and eight others in the group see what we need to do to get stronger, be motivated and succeed at developing healthy living again.

And through the 12 weeks of meeting twice a week with small gains and more successes, we have become family.

Each session begins with group conversation led by three specially-trained staff, Patience Smith-Cabrera, Deb Mareb, and Tom Brognano. Their insight into our challenges of recovering from cancer and knowledge of exercise kept us going, even when we felt we weren’t meeting our personal goals.

Planned exercise and strengthening activities gave a taste of what worked for us, individually. We learned how to use the machines in the gym, exercised in the pool, participated in chair yoga, stretching, Zumba, nutrition, and other instructional programs, all in a very supportive and comfortable environment.

Another benefit is a free YMCA membership during the program. It gave us unlimited access to the gym and pool, as well as all other exercise programs.

“I think it was amazing,” said Steve Schwartz of Sandwich on our graduation day recently. “The atmosphere and instructors are vested and caring, they want to see you succeed.”

“We got stronger physically and mentally,” said Donna Wrenn of Centerville. “We all helped each other and the instructors found a way to help us when we couldn’t do it.”

“When I first heard about the program, I was so tired from radiation treatments,” said Linda Higgins of Harwich. “I knew I needed to get up off the couch and I was nervous about how out of shape I was.

“I am glad I was told about the program and I took advantage of it. I do feel stronger and if I hadn’t come, I would still be sitting on the couch.”

Alice O’Neill of Osterville and Carolyn Crawford of Centerville are sisters who have both survived breast cancer, twice.

Carolyn thought she would get more involved with the exercise equipment but found out she enjoyed chair yoga and exercises with the flex bar as well as the nutrition class.
“I have become so fond of everyone in the group,” said O’Neill. “We all looked forward to coming each week and it provided an opportunity to share things that you can’t share with a lot of other people.”

Information about the next group starting in September is available at: www.ymcacapecod.org or by calling Patience Smith-Cabrera at 508-362-6500 ext. 136.


This story is dedicated to the memory of Tim Mullen, a member of our group who died on August 13, 2016.

While we only knew him for a short time, he became a wonderful friend to all of us and we will miss him.


Featured photograph by Marc Jacobson Photography

Front row left to right: Deb Mareb, Linda Higgins, Steve Schwartz, Roberta Cannon

Second row left to right: Alice O’Neill, Lisa Judelson, Donna Wrenn, Russ Potter, Carolyn Crawford, Tom Brognano

Left back sitting on railing: Ethan Schwartz (Steve Schwartz’s son)