LIVESTRONG FINALE: Remember your strengths…not your weaknesses

Jessica photo for The JourneyThere was a bit of a media frenzy at my workplace yesterday.  We are talking 3 cameras from 3 different news stations and 1 reporter and photographer from the local paper.  It would make you want to hide as well.  Previous interviews and a report were also done on one station that morning with live feed.  I warned my class that the news would be outside the building…so they should wear a hat or at least brush their hair prior to leaving the house just in case they were put on camera.  😉
You can view one of the several news clips at this link (I’m in the background in a black hat)Nine cancer survivors graduate from Livestrong at the YMCA – KXLT – Fox 47 Rochester MN News, Weather, Sports #rochmn.
Why the big fuss?  We were celebrating the graduation of 9 cancer survivors who were completing the Livestrong program at our YMCA.  This is a program that is a partnership with Y’s and the Livestrong foundation…and since I live in the town that I do…Mayo Clinic is involved as well.  We also have another hospital in our town (yes…Mayo does not treat us all) and Olmsted Medical Center had participants in the program also.
IMG_20141211_140926552_HDRWhy is the Livestrong program important for a cancer survivor?
First…here is an overview of what the Livestrong program is:  Exercise has been known to change lives for the better…and the research is starting to come in to show that it also will help improve the life of a cancer survivor!  The Livestrong program provides a small group the opportunity to learn how to exercise based on their current needs and goals and condition of their body.  The group is led by certified Livestrong instructors that have gone through several days of training.  Assessments are done with each individual in the program at the beginning and the end.  The group gets to sample a variety of different types of exercise to help them find something that they enjoy.  Lots of small talk and deep conversations are formed as well…some planned and some spontaneous.  Relationships are formed with individuals and the group to create a supportive and very non-judgemental environment for all those participating.
During Diagnosis and treatment
As an individual is diagnosed with cancer there is a wealth of information thrown at them and treatment options, diagnosis, support while in treatment and they learn to be part of the process of chemo, radiation, doctor visits, scans, etc.  While being treated, the support system is there and the main objective is to survive…get through the nasty and exhausting process of getting cancer out of your body.  For many, they get to ring a bell when they are done with treatment or receive a special gift as they are finishing their chemo treatment.
After treatment
Once cancer survivors leave those hospital doors, everything they have put their energy into the last several weeks, months and sometimes years…is over.  They are left with facing life in a new and different perspective than prior to diagnosis and without all the people surrounding them during treatment.  Learning to function in life…sometimes with bodies that are not in the same condition as before diagnosis or bodies that have been surgically altered, handling the fatigue, stress and emotions of being sick…all of these different issues and more are left for the individual to figure out.
How can those of us without cancer relate to these types of feelings?  For me, I look at my time in physical therapy with my hips.  Intense work with exercises to do three times a day and appointments weekly and sometimes bi-weekly with my PT.  When I was told at an appointment that I was well enough for our appointments to be over…I felt lost.  I wasn’t sure what that meant.  I didn’t know what to do.  I was scared that it was going to happen all over again and I wasn’t sure if I could just call and come back or if I would have to figure it out myself.  I didn’t know what my next steps were supposed to be.
The other perspective I have is a bit more morbid but very real.  It shows how little support there is after treatment is over and more realistically, that we are supposed to just go figure out how to take those next steps in life.  When my sister was 12 she passed away from complications while she was in treatment for a form of leukemia.  Not only did I watch her go through treatments for about 2 years, see her pain, watch her recover from surgeries and chemo and see her hair fall out, I also watched her in the last few hours she was alive.  No one gives you the path you are to take when you have to leave a hospital and never be with the person that is now gone.  There is no follow-up.  There isn’t a 6 month check-up for the survivors of the cancer patient.  The doctors and nurses you knew and relied on for knowledge and information and sometimes comfort…they don’t follow you out the doors.  You figure out how to live without that person who was part of your daily life.  I never got a book or pamphlet that said, “How to live a normal life again after watching your sister die.”
IMG_20141211_142858028The Livestrong progam is a chapter in that book that is so needed for individuals that are cancer survivors and their support system.  
I am finishing up my 12 weeks with these individuals and was asked to write a little something to each one…and that was tough.  For some, I will see again.  For others, I may not.  I have learned from all of them though and hope that I have helped them understand how to comprehend this chapter of their life.
My words for a few specific individuals part of our Livestrong group were these (and if you need to be the person on the receiving end of this…image I’m talking to you),
“I once was told to focus on my strengths and not my weaknesses…and today I am sharing those words with you.  You are one strong woman…who has many positives in life.  I saw your family at the first balloon launch…have watched you become confident in different machines in the fitness center and also increase the strength and flexibility in your lower body.  You are amazing…and you can now tie your own shoes!”
“You are one determined individual and have more strength than most people I know.  Remember how it feels when you are finished with that workout…and keep showing up.  That is how change happens.  You know how to find me if you need encouragement…don’t hesitate to ask.”


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