At first, Betsy Zangara thought the lump in her breast was just a consequence of breast-feeding. She had recently given birth to her third child and decided to become a stay-at-home mom after returning to her CPA job and missing her kids too much.
But on Dec. 28, 2017, Zangara was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma. She says it was the worst day of her life.
“It was quite a surprise,” Zangara says. “Cancer is not a journey for the faint of heart, especially when you have three kids at home who are looking up to you and depending on you.”
Although her prognosis is good, since the cancer was caught early, Zangara has to endure six rounds of chemotherapy followed by surgery and then six weeks of daily radiation. Side effects—just from the chemotherapy—include extreme exhaustion, stomach issues, blurred vision, nausea and brittle nails.
“Treatment for cancer is tough,” she says. “Physically it’s rough, and it’s also hard emotionally when you have three kids tugging at your sleeve trying to get you to go outside and play with them or even make them dinner.”
At her oncologist’s office one visit, Zangara noticed a brochure about LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, a program offering free small-group fitness sessions for adult cancer survivors. Although Zangara worked out consistently before she got sick, she liked the idea that a group of people would be counting on her to show up while she was going through cancer treatment.
“I knew it was going to be very easy for me to say, ‘I’m too tired today’ or ‘I’m just not feeling up to it,’” admits Zangara. “But if I had a group of people who were waiting for me and who I was supposed to meet, I knew it would make me much more consistent with my exercise.”
So she called the number on the brochure and signed up.
LIVESTRONG at the YMCA
The LIVESTRONG Foundation partnered with the YMCA in 2007 to develop LIVESTRONG at the YMCA. The foundation’s research showed that a top concern of cancer survivors was the difficulty of returning to physical activity after treatment.
LIVESTRONG at the YMCA offers adults affected by cancer a safe, supportive environment to participate in physical activity. Class size is limited to 12 people for each 12-week session.
All participants receive a free YMCA membership for the duration of the program. Currently, LIVESTRONG at the YMCA is available at the Desert Foothills, Scottsdale/Paradise Valley and Yuma YMCA branches.
When Zangara called about the program, she spoke with Jack White, a personal trainer at the Scottsdale/Paradise Valley YMCA. He became a certified LIVESTRONG at the Y trainer after his wife got breast cancer. She was in his first LIVESTRONG at the YMCA class.
White also is a cancer survivor himself. In 2001, doctors told him he had about 18 to 24 months to live when prostate cancer spread to his spine. Through 46 radiation treatments, he says he never missed a workout. In August, White will celebrate his 80th birthday.
“Studies show that cancer patients who exercise do much better than those who don’t,” says White. “They also have significantly less chance of recurrence. I never believed cancer was going to get me, and exercise was clearly a factor in that.”
For Zangara, who is still in treatment, the emotional support of the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA group has meant the most to her.
“I thought it would be good for me to exercise, and it has been,” she says. “What I didn’t anticipate was the camaraderie I would have with the group and how important they would become for me emotionally as I went through treatment.
“It’s important to have a community who rallies around you, and that’s what I’ve found at the YMCA,” Zangara adds. “I’ve been so incredibly grateful for this program and for all the people at the Y who are committed to it. It’s really made a difference in my life, much more than I thought it would.”