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Cancer survivors find strength, support in YMCA's Livestrong program

VALRICO

Shortly after the birth of her daughter, Angela Ostermann began to notice unusual bruising on her arms.

She saw a doctor for tests, which turned up the diagnosis: leukemia.

Since discovering the disease in 2008, Ostermann has fought back, spending more than a year undergoing intensive chemotherapy and outpatient treatment at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

Now, with the disease in remission, the 33-year-old Riverview mom celebrates with a monthly yoga class and almost daily workouts through Livestrong at the Y, a program that offers free three-month memberships and fitness training tailored for cancer survivors and their families.

"I decided to give my body a fighting chance," said Ostermann, fresh from a yoga class at the Campo Family YMCA in Valrico.

She also does cardio and weight-lifting exercises and has lost more than 100 pounds. Her primary goal is to build strength to resist the leukemia if it returns, but Ostermann, who writes training curricula for Verizon Wireless, has noticed other benefits.

"It serves as an outlet," she said. "It helps me manage stress. It makes me feel better about myself."

The Livestrong program, offered in partnership with the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Moffitt, started locally as a pilot effort at the Tampa Metropolitan YMCA's New Tampa branch in August 2009. The program, intended to put cancer survivors on track to long-term health, includes motivational programs, social events and one-on-one sessions with a fitness trainer.

Ninety people have been through the program, including 10 at the Brandon Family YMCA in Seffner, which last fall became the second Hills­borough County branch to offer the program, said Jon Dearolf, Livestrong project manager for the Tampa area.

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This year, the program became available at all YMCA branches in Hillsborough County and at much of the Suncoast YMCA network in Pinellas and Pasco counties. Campo has one of the more active programs, with eight cancer survivors signed up, program coordinators said. In Hills­borough, participants also have signed up at the Interbay-Glover Family YMCA in South Tampa and the Bob Sierra Family YMCA in Carrollwood.

Dearolf said that anyone who has battled cancer is eligible, but most recruits come through Moffitt. The cancer center attracts patients from across the region, many of whom found it burdensome to travel to the New Tampa YMCA.

"So many people were scattered across the county," said Dearolf, who is based at the New Tampa YMCA. That led to a plan to make the three-month free memberships available at all branches.

At Campo, the program includes monthly yoga sessions and individual workout times with a personal trainer.

Yoga instructor LaMor Silas, who has led exercise programs for cancer survivors at Moffitt and Rotary's Camp Florida in Brandon, said cancer survivors tend to have little upper-body strength.

People with breast cancer often have had mastectomies, and others have been left weakened by IV ports installed in their chests for chemotherapy.

Her goal is to offer exercises that help build chest and shoulder muscles without yoga's typical emphasis on inversions, or having the head lower than the body, which often makes cancer patients sick.

Yoga also improves posture and balance, Silas said. She recommends standing in yoga's "tree" position, with one foot off the ground, for those not ready for strenuous movements.

"When you're not feeling well, you tend to hunch your shoulders," Silas said. Chemotherapy patients' "sense of balance is off because of the treatments and medications."

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Cathy Crisamore, 65, of Durant, is a breast cancer survivor who has been free of the disease for 10 years. Before it was detected, however, the disease spread through her lymph nodes. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation likely saved her life, but the treatment also left her with little muscle strength in her chest.

She joined her first yoga class last month through the Livestrong program at Campo.

"I really liked it," she said. "They're very supportive and informative here."

Crisamore said she had enjoyed a personal training session and planned to take advantage of all the advice and support she could receive.

"I really truly believe that part of the healing process is having positive thinking," she said. "Attitude is 99 percent of anything."

Ostermann said battling cancer made her take stock of her life.

"It changes your life and makes you realize what's important," she said. "It's life: Stop sideline living, and make every day count."

Susan Green can be reached at hillsnews@sptimes.com.

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Want to join?

For information about Livestrong at the Y, call project manager Jon Dearolf at (813) 866-9622 or e-mail jdearolf@tampaymca.org.

Cancer survivors find strength, support in YMCA's Livestrong program 04/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 7, 2011 5:30am]

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