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Big donation helps cancer survivors recover physically and mentally

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YMCA fitness director Jo Lawrence, left, and Idahoan President and CEO Drew Facer. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

IDAHO FALLS – Idahoan Foods LLC’s $7,000 donation to the YMCA on Monday will be used to offer fitness training to cancer patients.

“These participants already have enough to worry about (financially), so this is afforded to them at no cost,” Jo Lawrence, the YMCA fitness director, tells EastIdahoNews.com.

The fitness program, called LIVESTRONG, lasts 12 weeks and helps people dealing with any form of cancer regain strength and wellbeing similar to their health level before they were diagnosed. The program is specific to each client and caters to their treatment plan.

“A sense of family and community is created with their (medical provider), and then they go home and don’t have anything. So we take it from there,” says Lawrence. “We provide a welcoming environment for them to come and work out, meet new people that are cancer survivors as well, and we create a community with them here.”

A graduation ceremony is held for those who complete the 12-week course, but it doesn’t end there. An alumni program provides a way for the group to continue to meet and interact and maintain the camaraderie.

Three patients just completed a pilot program, and six more will begin the program later this month. Lawrence says she is amazed at the progress of those who completed the pilot program.

“When I meet with a patient, I do an intake, and I learn everything about them, and then I do an assessment,” Lawrence says. “When they took the post-test (at the end), I was amazed at where the numbers were. All the clients that went through that first session blew it out of the water.”

Bill Starr was one of the participants in the pilot program. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow. On top of that, Starr also has Parkinson’s disease.

“I used to ride my bicycle 100 miles a week, then (before taking the program) I was down to maybe two or three blocks,” Starr says. “The cancer is just a nuisance, but it’s not really what’s bothering me. It’s the Parkinson’s.”

Being able to walk straight and stand straight have been the biggest challenges for Starr. Now, a couple weeks after completing the program, Starr says his balance has dramatically improved, and he feels stronger.

“(The doctors treating me for Parkinson’s) are really happy that I’m doing exercise because that’s a big thing for them,” says Starr. “My cancer doctor says, ‘Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.’ My blood cell count is staying level and good.”

But what helped Starr most was the camaraderie with others in the program.

“You see them twice a week, and they’re all going through something similar to what I’m going through. And we’re all about the same age,” Starr says. “You don’t want to just sit in your chair and die. You want to get up and do something.”

One lady who went through the program had a tracheotomy and was on oxygen.

“When she walked into my office the first time, she was out of breath,” Lawrence says. “When she came for her post assessment, she walked in without her oxygen and was on cloud nine.”

Each client who goes through the program may be in a different stage of cancer. For some, it may be a recent diagnosis. Others may be in the middle of treatments or be in remission.

Whatever the case, LIVESTRONG is open to anyone 18 and older who has had a cancer diagnosis.

If you have cancer or know someone who does, Starr says the program is well worth it.

“You’re doing a lot of exercise, but you’re also learning a lot about yourself, what you can do and what’s possible. There’s still a lot of life left,” he says.

Idahoan President and CEO Drew Facer started working with the YMCA two years ago. Hearing about the impact LIVESTRONG has had on people locally is what prompted him to help out in funding the program.

“We’re very proud to be part of the community and whatever we can do to help give back — we’ll do what we can,” Facer says.

To register for the course, call the YMCA at (208) 523-0600 or stop by in person at 155 N. Corner Avenue.

Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com
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