YMCA program for cancer survivors helps body and mind

Mental health month highlights need for support

DENVER -- May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it’s a reminder that physical health and mental health are powerfully connected. A new program through the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver is addressing all aspects of health for cancer survivors.

David Garrity is one of the Livestrong program's first graduates. Four years ago, doctors discovered a massive tumor in his chest. The first symptoms he noticed were psychological.

"I started having depression which I'd never had before and I started to have some real brutal anxiety symptoms," said Garrity.

After surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, Garrity is now in remission. He participated in the YMCA's program not only to improve his physical health, but also to find a support group.

"Cancer just has such a huge impact on someone's life, it takes a huge emotional toll on them," says YMCA fitness coordinator Becky Hummel.  

The 12-week Live Strong program goes beyond workouts. It also acts as a support group for cancer survivors. They do activities, like yoga and water aerobics. But they also have a place to share their feelings and fears.

Trainers for the program go through a special certification. They create individualized workouts for participants, because each cancer survivor has different needs.  

"The moment you’re diagnosed you’re considered a cancer survivor, so we’ve had people who were literally diagnosed two weeks ago and people who were diagnosed five years ago," says Hummel.

Whether it has been one week or five years, Garrity says cancer changes you forever. He says programs like Live Strong help keep him motivated to stay physically and mentally fit.

The YMCA of Metropolitan Denver is currently running the program at the Schlessman Family YMCA. Organizers are recruiting cancer survivors for programs at the Littleton and downtown locations. For information on enrolling in the program contact mthompson@denverymca.org or call (720) 524-2747.

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