Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Livestrong, Palm Harbor YMCA offer pilot exercise program for cancer patients


Joyce Chiavetta was initially reluctant to lead cancer patients and survivors in a brand new exercise program at the Greater Palm Harbor YMCA.

"There was no cancer in my family. I had no experience with it. I was worried I could hurt someone," said Chiavetta, 49, who was a personal trainer and the wellness coordinator at the Y when she was offered the position.

Then everything changed.

"A few months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer," she recalled.

Chiavetta soon realized the collision of her personal health and her work life symbolized a deeper purpose.

"Right from the very beginning, even before my surgery, this program really helped me with my battle because I wasn't serving myself; I was serving a purpose for other people," she said.

Today, Chiavetta is a certified Livestrong instructor who leads cancer patients and survivors in a free 12-week course designed to improve strength, flexibility and confidence that can be lost during illness, surgeries and chemotherapy. While enrolled in the program, participants have all the benefits of a Y membership. They can use the pool, attend other exercise classes, even drop the kids off in an attended play area.

The YMCA of the Suncoast, including the Palm Harbor Y, was one of 10 YMCA associations around the nation to participate in a Livestrong pilot exercise program beginning in 2008. Palm Harbor was one of the original branches to get involved; officials there are now training other associations across the country.

Livestrong is cycling star Lance Armstrong's foundation, which was founded in 1997 and provides support to cancer patients and raises funds for cancer research.

The exercise program was developed by the pilot participants in conjunction with medical professionals because studies have shown that exercise is beneficial in combatting side effects of cancer treatments, said Livestrong executive Mike Roberts.

The program includes a pair of 11/2 hour classes per week. The classes start with communication. Instructors check in with participants to see how they're feeling, gauge their energy level that day, find out if anything has changed in their treatments.

They warm up on treadmills and exercise bikes before heading to the machines or free weights for strength training. The class ends with a cool-down period and conversation about upcoming events, cancer treatments, family issues, whatever comes up.

It's not just the exercise, participants are quick to say: it's also about camaraderie, acceptance and shared experiences navigating the mine fields of cancer.

Many of those who go through the program join the Y after its completion so they can keep up with their workouts. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, several graduates were in the weight room walking on treadmills and using the machines.

"I feel so much better when I'm exercising," said one graduate, 68-year-old Lois Jenkins.

Participants include men and women of all ages.

"They make you feel so comfortable, because going to the gym can be intimidating. But you come in and there's all sizes and shapes," said Brenda Brown, 62, of Dunedin.

Kim Ford of Palm Harbor signed up for the classes just days after finishing her last chemotherapy treatment.

The 39-year-old, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in March, said she originally got involved to push herself mentally and physically to "get busy."

The classes have given her confidence, increased her strength and steeled her resolve to get better and stay healthy.

"Attitude is everything. I've got to smile and hold my head up high because I'm getting a second chance at life," she said, dumbbells in hand. "Every day I wake up, I'm thankful to be alive and to see the sun."

Free Livestrong pool party

The Greater Palm Harbor YMCA will host a free pool party from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday to celebrate national Livestrong Day 2011. The branch is located at 1600 16th St. The event will include refreshments and music. Livestrong at the YMCA participants will be honored. Other local branches are also hosting events Sunday. Check with your local branch for information.

For information on the exercise program, visit

Livestrong, Palm Harbor YMCA offer pilot exercise program for cancer patients 09/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2011 7:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Police: Uber driver's gun discharges during fight at Adventure Island in Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — An Uber driver's gun went off Sunday at Adventure Island during a fight between the driver and two passengers.

  2. Baker cautious on Pride politics


    Rick and Joyce Baker strode down Central Avenue Sunday amid rainbow flags, corporate booths, and blaring music of the St. Pete Pride Festival.

    St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Baker chats Sunday with people at the St. Pete Pride Festival. As mayor, Baker did not sign a Pride parade proclamation, but now he says he would.
  3. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.
  4. Lightning among early suitors for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he planned to explore free agency for potential needs, which include bolstering his blue line and adding a wing or two.

    Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who can be a free agent Saturday, counts the Lightning among his early suitors.
  5. Senate leaders try to appease members as support for health bill slips


    WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders scrambled Sunday to rally support for their health care bill, even as opposition continued to build outside Congress and two Republican senators questioned whether the bill would be approved this week.

    Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday, is one of the five Republican senators who announced they cannot support the health care bill as drafted.