TAMPA — At the age of 15, Carla Kellum lost her right leg to osteosarcoma.
Two years later, after learning her cancer had spread to her lungs, her family moved from Maryland to Florida, seeking treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center. She also sought a place where she could work out.
"I wanted to get into running and I wanted to be active, but I was looking at different gyms and they really didn't suit me," Kellum said during the Miles For Moffitt 5K event at the University of South Florida May 9.
"Cancer takes so much energy out of you when you're going through the treatments and stuff so it's nice to know that there's a program here that caters to you and really looks at your goals and your strength. It tailors your program to how you're feeling right now."
That's when Kellum found the YMCA's Livestrong program, a free, 12-week, research-based program designed uniquely for adult cancer patients and caregivers to achieve different goals in holistic health. North Brandon YMCA wellness director and Livestrong coordinator Michael Yanni led a team of Livestrong participant at Miles for Moffitt.
"Staff and coaches are trained in supportive care of cancer patients, which we believe is anyone who's been diagnosed with cancer," Yanni said. "Everybody that comes into our program is at a different phase in their treatment whether they were just diagnosed or currently going through radiation or chemo. Some folks have been in remission for 20 years and some are still getting treatment."
Yanni says the Livestrong program curriculum focuses on emotional, nutritional and physical well-being and encourages participants to use events such as the Miles for Moffitt race to embrace their new normal.
"I always tell my participants, 'Yes, this is a new normal and that's scary, but who says the new normal can't be better than the old normal?' " Yanni said. "It's a lot of fun to give them that environment and those tools to heal."
Kellum, who Yanni refers to as one of the rock stars of the North Brandon Livestrong program, said she is so grateful for the strength and hope that this program gives to survivors. Since joining and graduating from the program, Kellum has participated in four 5K runs, multiple sprint triathlons and at least one 8K run.
"Once you realize you have the strength and the cancer isn't going to hold you back anymore and you're finally done with your treatments and you can get on with your life, you just want to take it as far as you can go," Kellum said.
Now, while undergoing radiation and what she calls the "wait and see" treatment for her cancer, which has spread to her brain, Kellum is eager to finish treatment to begin running again and return to the Livestrong program.
"I'm a runner at heart," Kellum said. "Once I started going it's been calling me. I can't wait to get better and get stronger."
In the meantime, Kellum has achieved a different goal. She will graduate this month with a degree in orthotics and prosthetics from St. Petersburg College.
"It's heartwarming to say the least, to see that anyone has really gotten something out of what we do in this program," Yanni said. "It's one of those things that I wish we didn't need, but if cancer is out there, and it is, we want to do our part to help."
Livestrong was one of more than 350 fundraising teams to participate in Miles for Moffitt. The event drew more than 6,500 participants and has raised more than $650,000. The total continues to grow with post-event donations.
Moffitt director and executive vice president Tom Sellers said the funds from the event, now in its 10th year, will have a real impact.
"From what I understand we couldn't take any more runners, for safety issues and capacity on campus, which is a good problem to have," Sellers said. "We were able to award seven grants at $100,000 each. So it spanned from prevention, to basic science, to therapies at the bedside."
Online donations will be accepted through June 30. Email MilesFor [email protected] for more information.
For more information about the YMCA's Livestrong program, go to tampaymca.org and search "Health, Well-Being and Fitness" under "Our Programs."
Contact Kelsey Sunderland at [email protected]