Susan Cowin faced some difficult struggles after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. This active mom of a young son found herself sidelined by the side effects she experienced during and after treatment.

“I was exhausted from chemo, and I couldn’t keep up with him. I couldn’t run around the block with him, I couldn’t chase him. So, it really affected my ability to be in my family the way I wanted to be,” Susan says.

Regaining control
A year after Susan finished chemotherapy at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute, she discovered LIVESTRONG at the YMCA—an exercise program designed to help cancer survivors regain control over their bodies.

“When I started the program, my goal was to get in good enough shape to go on a backpacking trip in Canada with my family,” Susan says.

Exercise is the No. 1 way to prevent cancer recurrence, says Colleen Glick, coordinator for the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program in Eugene. The free, 12-week program offers cancer survivors the benefits of individualized training in a group setting. LIVESTRONG at the YMCA instructors have been trained in cancer survivorship, post-rehabilitation exercise and supportive cancer care.

“Our motto is ‘Start low, go slow.’ We want to meet everybody exactly where they’re at, give them the workout that’s best for them, tweak it through those 12 weeks, and then support them as they grow and progress,” Colleen says. “Our goal is to teach the participants how much better they can feel and to give them back their independence by giving them back their bodies.”

The power of exercise
Getting regular exercise can help ease common side effects associated with cancer treatment, including lymphedema, neuropathy, range of motion issues and fatigue.

Cancer survivors are often told that exercise is beneficial to their recovery, but the reality of getting active or working out when you’re dealing with debilitating side effects is difficult—and knowing where to start can be overwhelming. Susan says the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program gave her the tools to get started and the support to keep going.

“It was amazing to go through this process with other survivors who were supported by each other,” she says. “I could say, ‘Oh, I have these scars,’ or ‘I’m experiencing this’ and other people in the group could sympathize, because they were dealing with similar issues.”

Seeing results
Over the course of the three-month program, Susan’s strength and flexibility returned, her range of motion improved, and she regained her confidence—and her dream of taking a backpacking trip with her family became reality. It was a trip Susan will never forget.

“This program changed my life. It completely changed my attitude. I’m connected with my body again. My body is strong and healthy, and life is very good.”

The LIVESTRONG program at the YMCA is offered in January, April and September each year. Since the program began in Eugene in 2016, more than 100 people have participated. The program does have a waiting list, however. If you a cancer survivor interested in learning more, call 541-686-9622 or email livestrong@eugeneymca.org.