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ymcaFrom left: Livestrong Trainer Kathleen Kennedy, Jane, Katie, Kevin, Marianne, Sally and Livestrong Coordinator Lauren Polo-Esakoff. (Ventura Family YMCA photo)

The Lance Armstrong Foundation, also known as the Livestrong Foundation, has paved the way for more programs to be created for cancers victims and survivors. Promoting strength, health and positivity to cancer survivors in the local community, the Ventura Family YMCA’s Livestrong program is a prime example of their efforts.

The main purpose of Livestrong at the Y is to “help adult cancer survivors reclaim their health and well-being following a cancer diagnosis.” The Y’s wellness coaches are able to assist the participants through a 12-week program that includes physical conditioning to help decrease the amount of side effects resulting from chemotherapy.

The exercise and nutrition training also helps participants avoid weight changes that might not be desired after chemotherapy. They also work on strength and physical conditioning, along with meditation practice, giving them a sense of peace that may have been lost during the draining process of chemotherapy and even radiation.

The Livestrong program also provides fellowship within the cancer community. Survivors now have a local place where they can gain strength and interact with others who understand what they are going through.

Kevin Illig saw a flyer about the Y’s Livestrong Program at the Community Memorial Hospital’s Cancer Center and decided to join. Since January of 2009 he has been battling multiple myeloma gamma G cancer, where white and red blood cells don’t work properly so the bones become weakened, similar to leukemia.

“The diagnosis was devastating because I was training as a senior lightweight amateur MMA fighter. I then began gaining weight and eventually fractured my T11 vertebrae after a fall,” Illig said. “So when I saw the Y’s advertisement, I said, ‘I got to try this.’ And it’s working because I already lost 7 pounds!”

The effects of this program aren’t just felt by the participants themselves. Lauren Polo-Esakoff is the Y’s Livestrong coordinator and runs the program with Kathleen Kennedy.

“I feel like my purpose in life is to help other people by sharing my knowledge on physical fitness,” Polo-Esakoff states. “It’s just so much fun being able to show this group exercises and to see them improve and get excited about the benefits of exercise.”

Kennedy further explains how this program not only helps with the physical pain but the emotional process that cancer survivors experience. Both she and Lauren are there to guide everyone at a level they are comfortable with.

“We are both certified and highly credentialed as personal trainers. However, to begin this program we had specific Livestrong training to learn about all types of cancer cases, many of which were extremely devastating to the body,” Kennedy said. “In the first group we thought, ‘what did we get ourselves into?’ but once we got going, we felt confident in our training with the support of CMH Cancer Center and the Montecito YMCA’s Livestrong program, so all of the collaborations really helped us become a source of physical and emotional support for our group.”

When asked how she feels now, Kennedy stated, “It’s amazing to be able to help people who are going through a myriad of physical and emotional pain because helping others is something I’m passionate about.”

The pacing in this program is key in helping each survivor feel comfortable.

Marianne Cothern had a double mastectomy from stage three breast cancer and underwent six months of chemotherapy and one year of treatment. All of the radiation and lymphedema pain took a toll on her body

“I was out of shape, didn’t work out for one year, and had a limited range of motion from the double mastectomy, so it was nice to become healthier with a group of people equally as uncomfortable as me.”

Livestrong at the Y is a free 12-week program. Survivors and their family members also receive memberships to the Y, which enables the entire family to remain active and healthy.

If you would like to learn more about this program, please contact the Y’s Livestrong Coordinator, Lauren Polo-Esakoff, by email at [email protected], stop in at the Y or call 805.642.2131 x28.

— Alicia Cattoni is the marketing and communications director at Ventura Family YMCA.

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