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YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo puts Cancer in its place!

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Cancer. Survived it. Now What?

For those anxious and ready to return to full health, the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo has an incredible program for their journey back to wellness called LIVESTRONG at the YMCA. All participants and their caregivers receive a free Y membership while in the program.

The YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo has been involved in the LIVESTRONG program since 2012. The program runs 12 weeks and offers a health and wellness program designed for adult cancer survivors who find themselves in the transitional period between completing their cancer treatment and the shift to feeling physically and emotionally strong enough to attempt to return to their normal life or their "new normal."

Haley Hildebrand, a Portage Northern High School graduate, attends Michigan State University where she double majors in psychology and social work. She also happens to be a stage 4 cancer survivor and alumnus of the LIVESTRONG program. Her story like many still resonates with survivors today.

All participants in the LIVESTRONG class have the opportunity to share their story, favorite quotes, life lessons, etc., and provide feedback on the class in a traveling journal.

Hildebrand's notes included, "I have learned cancer really knows no age, religion, race, or gender. At 19, I think one of the biggest weaknesses young people have is our sense of invincibility. I always thought nothing bad would happen to me.

"Cancer? I'm way too young for that! Maybe that's why God chose me, to change the minds of people who thought like me. I believe a positive attitude is key to making it through this journey, instead of thinking 'why me' I chose to think of it as a 'What is God trying to teach me?' Trust me, if you focus on the positives you really will see how cancer can be a gift in disguise."

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As Hildebrand and her LIVESTRONG classmates learned, the program's goal is to help participants build muscle mass and muscle strength, increase flexibility and endurance, and improve functional ability. Additional goals include reducing the severity of therapy side effects, preventing unwanted weight changes and improving energy levels and self-esteem.

In addition to the physical benefits, the program provides participants a supportive environment and a feeling of community with their fellow survivors and YMCA staff and members. A final goal of the program is to assist participants in developing their own physical fitness program so they can continue to practice a healthy lifestyle, not only as part of their recovery, but as a way of life.

When asked what advice Hildebrand would give a young adult who was diagnosed with cancer she answered, "My biggest piece of advice is to get connected to others fighting the same fight. It's so easy to feel alone when your world is turned upside down.

"Your relationships are bound to change, some for the better, some for worse. In the end, this will be a blessing in disguise. What worked for someone else may not work for you.

"Thanks to the LIVESTRONG program, I realized what a difference being active can make in overall health, both physically and mentally. You will experience some bad days, but let me tell you, soon you'll have a new found appreciation for the good ones."

When she doesn't have her nose in a book, Hildebrand can usually be found at a basketball game screaming her lungs out in the "izzone" or enjoying the occasional burger and beer at her favorite dive. Haley continues to love adventures, country music, Nashville, Sparty, man buns (that's a hair style) and squats......kind of!

Contributions to the Y's annual campaign allow the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo to provide the LIVESTRONG and other valuable programs. Join us at the Annual YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo Community Breakfast, Thursday, March 12, at 7:30 a.m. to learn more about what the Y is doing in our community and how you can help.

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