When Dennis was young, he went fishing with his two uncles on the Columbia River. While he was watching his pole, his Uncle Bud snuck up behind him, picked him up, and tossed him into the churning water. Luckily, his Uncle Jimmy was on hand to pluck him out, but the experience left him terrified of going near water. It got so bad, just driving over a bridge would cause an anxiety attack.
Dennis settled into a comfortable routine of staying clear of any body of water. When he and his wife would take their grandchildren to the lake, he would stand far away from the shore and watch while they played, but never participated.
All that changed when he found out in 2008 that he had lung cancer. After four months of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation, he had to have an entire lung surgically removed. An active caver and mountain climber, Dennis now had to rely on an oxygen tank. He had all but given up when he found out about the LIVESTRONG at the Y program at the Lakewood Family YMCA. He signed up, figuring that it would be a hassle, but was surprised when he began to feel better and actually have fun.
"It helped me cope with the idea of living the rest of my life without a lung," Dennis says. "I just can't say enough for this program. I am so thankful [the Y] has it. I love the Y and I love the people in it."
A short time after the LIVESTRONG class ended, he was talking with his FitPath coach about his fear of the water and she suggested that he sign up for another class, Floating Beyond Fear, to help overcome his phobia.
"I told her there weren't enough people in the Y to get me into that pool."
But he considered it. Encouraged by his success in LIVESTRONG, Dennis ultimately decided to face his demons. He started slowly -- just dangling his feet over the side of the pool. Working at his own pace and clinging to the wall for dear life, he finally managed to step into the water for the first time and eventually was able to put his head underwater without panicking.
This summer, he is looking forward to going to the lake with his grandkids and joining them in the water.
"They'll be surprised," he says with a smile.