When the Lance Armstrong Foundation wanted a partner to design and deliver exercise programs and well-being initiatives for cancer survivors, it looked to the YMCA of the USA.
Specifically, it looked to the Bardmoor branch of the YMCA of the Suncoast in Largo.
Bardmoor YMCA is one of 10 YMCAs nationwide chosen to pilot the initiative, paving the way for a national program within the next six months.
"Our branch was one of the pioneers of the YMCA's Activate America program and that was a factor in our being chosen," said Bardmoor's executive director Mike Roberts.
The Activate America initiative is a nationwide effort aimed at engaging children, youth, adults and families in health programs that include spirit, mind and body.
Medical research shows moderate levels of appropriate physical activity can reduce fatigue, boost self-esteem, improve muscle strength and bolster physical endurance during and after cancer treatment.
Roberts said the plan is to create a place where cancer survivors can say, "I can go there and the Y will know what to do."
In addition to creating exercise programs, Roberts' staff received training to help them understand and be receptive to cancer survivors.
"Depending on the stage of treatment, some may come in without hair or may be fatigued after three or four minutes of exercise," Roberts explained.
"We also have a cancer survivor focus group helping us," Roberts said. "They give us advice about what would make it comfortable here for cancer survivors."
Sue MacDonald of Seminole and Lucien Poirier of Clearwater know the cycles of hope and despair associated with cancer. MacDonald has survived two bouts with breast cancer while Poirier survived esophageal cancer. Both believe exercising at the Bardmoor YMCA has been an integral part of their survival.
"The Y is convenient and has individualized programs," Poirier said. "The days I feel like coming here the least are the days I feel the best after exercising."
"I always feel good when I leave the Y, even when going through treatment," MacDonald said. … "It provided me with the sense that there was so much to live for and I needed to take care of myself. It kept me going."