Last updateMon, 23 Oct 2017 3pm

Your Health

Think Pink: El Camino YMCA program aims to strengthen cancer survivors

Photo By: Photos By Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Photos By Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Julie Grosvenor and Sha Foland, from left, spearhead the El Camino YMCA’s Living Strong, Living Well program for cancer survivors.

The staff at the El Camino YMCA is seeing the world in a whole new color – pink.

In recognition that October is designated nationally as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, YMCA employees have donned pink shirts, among other things, in an effort to spread awareness about the disease through the Y’s programs and services.

“You never know when that story is going to come out,” said Sha Foland, the El Camino YMCA’s senior program director of health and wellness. “If I’m wearing the pink shirt and someone says, ‘Hey, are you a part of this whole pink promotion?’ Absolutely. Then it becomes, ‘Well my mom had cancer or my best friend did.’ That story comes up and now we’re connected.”

The Mountain View-based branch’s efforts include the Living Strong, Living Well program, a unique strength-based group for cancer survivors. The program, offered in small groups, provides strength and fitness training for adult cancer survivors who experience chronic fatigue as a side effect of treatment and the disease itself.

According to Foland, the Living Strong, Living Well program – offered in partnership with the Stanford Health Improvement Program – originated at Palo Alto’s Page Mill YMCA in 2002.

“The mindset prior to (2002) was, ‘Why would you exercise when you’re already fatigued?’” said Foland, who noted that participants regain strength and stamina throughout the duration of the program, thereby increasing their quality of life.

The 12-week program is now offered throughout the year at the El Camino YMCA and in seven other locations in the greater Bay Area.

Julie Grosvenor, who leads the branch’s two Living Strong, Living Well groups, said that while the program itself doesn’t vary greatly from traditional strength-based exercise groups, it offers additional benefits beyond fitness. Group participants, she noted, share a common bond of having battled the disease. Meeting with others who understand those struggles, she added, is what makes the program stand out.

“It’s set up as a group for a reason,” Grosvenor said. “You can do personal training or strength training anytime. You’re going through a strength-training program with a group of people – even if you haven’t had the same cancer or just finished chemotherapy – and there’s a common story.”

A helping hand

At times, Grosvenor noted, participants show up for the group dispirited and fatigued. Because of those instances, she said the program differs in that it provides a physical touch – whether it’s a pat on the back, a consoling hug or a high-five.

“Their highs and lows through the three months that we see them can be pretty extreme sometimes,” she said. “You’re not going to want to come in some days. You’re going to want to wake up and stay in bed. … Our message to them is that even if you just walk through the door, I want to see you. If you say to me that you can’t do any more than this, I’ll walk you back out the door or I’ll sit with you in the lobby and together we’ll say that you made it today.”

A former preschool teacher, Grosvenor said she embraces the added tactile element.

“I love it,” she said. “It can be tiring (emotionally), there’s no question … but I don’t mind people getting personal. I like providing touch. I like being able to go in and find out what they need and what I can do. That, for me, is a daily goal with this group.”

Grosvenor added that several participants have formed close friendships as a result of the group exercise classes. To strengthen the bonds, Grosvenor formed a weekly walking group of former participants. This year, she and a group of 25 individuals – including several former class participants – are taking part in the 2012 Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Awareness of Silicon Valley event Saturday in San Jose.

Together, she noted, the group has raised more than $2,400 to benefit the American Cancer Society.

“The unexpected result is how they feed me,” Grosvenor said of the participants in her exercise and walking groups. “I can go home at the end of the day in a crazy Silicon Valley and I’m totally full. My heart is full.”

For more information, visit www.ymcasv.org/elcamino.

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