Finding the Strength to Fight Cancer in Community
Blog by Charlie Davis
President and CEO
YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties
The best part of my long career in the Y is getting to witness the positive impact the Y has on people’s lives over time. As part of that longevity, though, I’ve also seen the tremendous challenges many people endure. A few months ago, a long-time member unexpectedly stopped by my office. It was good to see him; it had been a while. He informed me that he had taken a break from the Y because, as he put it, “Life got to be too much.” His mom had passed away and there was a lot to deal with, such as working through her business affairs, not to mention settling into the reality that she was gone. Amidst the pain of his mom’s passing, he also learned he had cancer, and it shook him to his core.
Joe had always been carefree and fun-loving, so it was difficult to see him like this; his spirit was broken and he was scared. He came to see me because he remembered hearing about the LIVESTRONG® program at the Y. He wanted to find out if it was something for him. I told him it was exactly for him – a place where he’d be surrounded by people who understood the challenges he faced. I told him how participants in the program formed a tightknit community, supporting one another through the emotional trials of cancer treatment. Toward the end of his visit, he shared that he had been out of work for a while and money was tight. I got to tell him the program was free; it was nice to deliver some positive news.
Several years ago, the Y partnered with the LIVESTRONG Foundation to offer a small group program for cancer patients and survivors. Research shows exercise can be vital to a patient’s recovery, but no one could have predicted how critical community support would prove to be. Being in community changes everything. Participants in the program draw strength from each other and consistently experience renewed health as a result.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in a meeting at the Morgan Family YMCA discussing our fundraising efforts for the new Scott and Sis Names Family YMCA. A young woman opened the meeting by sharing her experience in the LIVESTRONG program. Ivory’s story was extremely moving. As a young mother of three, she discovered she had cancer. Her life was turned upside down. She was frightened and worried about not being there for her kids. Her doctor recommended she join the LIVESTRONG at the Y program. The exercise helped her lose weight and get stronger, but it was the new friends she made who changed her life and – in her mind – saved it. She was 30 years younger than anyone else in the group, and she discovered age was meaningless. All that mattered was their care and support for one another. Today, Ivory leads LIVESTRONG groups at the Morgan Y, supporting others in their fight against cancer. She is passionate about giving back what she once received.
Joe has now been part of the LIVESTRONG program for 10 weeks. He keeps me posted on his progress and told me the other day, “You were right, Charlie. The people in this program are great, and they’ve become my friends. We share a pretty tight bond, and it has gotten us through a lot.”
I heard those same words when I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, a few years back to learn about a partnership between a YMCA and a cancer clinic. At the time, it was the only one in the country. We visited the founder of the program, a doctor who also led a spin class for participants. He shared with us how special the groups were, saying, “Their bond is tight.” Participants might be too weak to walk at times, but they would find the extra strength to come in to see their friends. They mourned together when they lost a friend, and celebrated when one of them conquered the disease. The doctor shared with me that the groups gave life to each other and formed a lifeline for each participant, just as it did for Ivory, and now for Joe.
I am grateful – and proud – that our Y offers this and many other programs to our community.