By Dave Hicks
Gordon College News Service
October 8, 2013
(This assigned story appeared in a special print section Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, in The Salem News and its sister papers.)
MARBLEHEAD—Six years ago, Sheila Vitale of Marblehead beat breast cancer. Even as she battled the disease, she continued playing the violin for the Boston Ballet. Now she’s meeting with local survivors to continue recovering an active lifestyle.
Vitale is one of eight cancer survivors who are participating in a new pilot program at the Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA on Leggs Hill Road in Marblehead. On Sept. 23, the organization partnered with the LIVESTRONG Foundation to offer a new 12-week fitness program for cancer survivors. Although the program has been underway at YMCAs across the nation—over 22 are in Massachusetts—Lynch/van Otterloo is the first to offer it on the North Shore.
“It really was very emotional for me to meet with the group and to say again that I am a cancer survivor,” said Vitale, 70. “Even though we are different ages and at different stages of treatment, the fact that we all have cancer in common gives us space to talk about things that worry us.”
The new group was launched, according to Health and Wellness Director at the Lynch/van Otterloo YMCA Jaime Bloch, because everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer. “Our question was: what can we do?” she said. “We decided this was a great way to support survivors in our community, so we moved forward with it.”
The program is free and open to any cancer survivors from the North Shore. Participants are also given a free association YMCA membership with access to any of the North Shore YMCAs.
The program’s inaugural group includes seven women and one man. Each participant went through a pre-assessment process, which included gaining permission from their physician and articulating their goals. They meet twice a week for 90-minute sessions, during which they exercise under the guidance of three certified personal trainers.
“We want to help them build a community,” said Martha Potvin, 43, trainer and program coordinator. “To provide a setting where they can feel better and move forward in their lives.”
Potvin said one participant had to walk with a cane and was unable to take the stairs when he began the program. Now, he walks without the cane and tackles the stairs to class.
“You can’t attribute [that progress] to exercise quite yet,” said Potvin. “But it is a sign that confidence is being built.”
Andrea Klein, 63, who completed her treatment for breast cancer this past August, said the program has already helped her feel better.
“I already feel such a difference, mentally and physically,” she said. “The radiation and surgery took more out of me than I thought. I was feeling weak, but now my strength is really coming back.”
When the class concludes the YMCA plans to begin a second session for a new group of survivors in January.
“This will be an ongoing program,” said Bloch. “We will keep offering [the program] for as long as there is a demand.”
And despite being a quarter of the way through her time with the program, Vitale said she had no regrets.
“I get the feeling that even though we will be finished, that won’t be the end of our group,” she said. “We are getting a great chance to know and encourage each other. As more and more people begin to join in, I really think we’re just going to grow.”