Hooper: Cancer survivors as models of meaningful change

Published August 30 2016
Updated August 31 2016

The participant came into the program needing a cane to walk and a brace to support his shoulder.

A cancer survivor, to be celebrated for sure, showing the lingering aftereffects of his battle.

But by the time he completed the YMCA's LiveSTRONG program designed to help adult cancer survivors reach new goals, he had gained enough strength to shed the brace and he used the cane only as a guide. On the final day, he took to a recumbent bike and pedaled a full rotation.

"While this seems minor, he was extremely excited," LiveSTRONG senior program director Dawn Kita said. "He … envisions himself in time being able to finally go outside and ride a bike along Bayshore, something he was told he would never be able to do again."

It's a common transformation for LiveSTRONG, and one that never fails to inspire. People come into the program seeking to regain strength and restore confidence. Many desire rejuvenation of body and spirit after enduring chemotherapy and radiation, treatments that eradicate the cancer but take a toll.

But Kita says it goes beyond recuperation.

"People have to learn to trust their body again after cancer," Kita said. "They need guidance in knowing just what their bodies are capable of after treatment. They need the support of the coach and members to trust that they can do much more than they realize."

In the end, for LiveSTRONG participants — and anyone taking on a challenge — it's a matter of direction. It's a matter of regaining control and living your life, instead of letting life live you. It's a testament to choosing your path instead of allowing a demon to do it for you.

And those transformations emotionally impact Kita's outlook. Every. Single. Day.

"For many of us, our worst day may never compare to the worst day of someone battling cancer," Kita said. "It gives me an incredible appreciation for the mundane. A simple day, without an uphill battle is a huge blessing to those battling cancer.

"Once you hear so many stories, you can no longer take a 'normal' day for granted. Each day that we wake up healthy is one of the greatest blessings we can have."

Our special presentation in today's edition focuses on people like the LiveSTRONG participants who have transformed mind and muscle into meaningful change. They do it for themselves, for their families, for their faith, and hopefully they realize how much the rest of us impart from their success. They're not superhuman, they just deliver super efforts.

Few people can look at their lives and find no room for improvement, but the mission can get muddled by life's daily demands, and the nagging negatives that it can't be done.

These folks show us that it can be done. For that, we all should be grateful.

That's all I'm saying.

Contact your local YMCA or email dawn.kita@tampaymca.org to learn more about LiveStrong.