LIVESTRONG at the YMCA: Barry’s Story
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“It made me realize that yeah, I was alone alone in my own particular experience, but I was far from alone in terms of the general experience of humanity.”
In May 2016, Barry Jones heard the words no one wants to hear: “you have cancer”. But Barry’s case was rare. He had male breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates nearly 2,470 men in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.
At the time of his diagnosis, Barry and his wife Fran learned about the Livestrong Program offered at the YMCA. It’s a research-based physical activity and well-being program designed to help those dealing with cancer achieve their holistic health goals. Barry says he was reluctant about the program at first, but decided to give it a try. “I saw the brochure and the program looked like a good place to get out for networking, connecting with other people, and focusing on positive outcomes instead of negative experiences,” says Barry.
The goal of the Y’s Livestrong program is to help people move beyond cancer in spirit, body, and mind. Participants meet twice a week for 12 weeks. During that time, the group tries a variety of activities including cardio and strength training, Zumba, cycling, meditation, and aromatherapy. Each participant also gets a free YMCA membership during their time in the program. “It’s a potpourri of things that you can use as tools in your toolbox,” says Barry.
“We hope that at the end of the session participants will find something that they like to encourage them to continue their new lifestyle or exercise regime within the walls of the Y,” says Sandy Keeney, Program Director at the Independent Health Family Branch YMCA.
Barry says one of things he loved most about the program was the encouragement from everyone in the group. “It’s interesting to hear other people’s stories,” says Barry. “In the beginning, it was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that I was a man with breast cancer. But I was sitting in a room with other women who shared my experience. It made me realize that yeah, I was alone in my own particular experience, but I’m far from alone in terms of the general experience of humanity.”
Barry’s wife Fran also participated in the program with her husband. “We’ve talked to a few people to try to convince them to give it a try. I think it’s really good to be with people who have similar experiences,” says Fran. “Both people who are surviving cancer as well as the support people. It gave me a chance to connect and we developed friendships with some of the people who were there. I think the biggest thing is the positivity.”
The Livestrong program helped Barry in other ways, too. He says when he started out, he weighed 220 pounds, and was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. He says the program taught him a lot about proper nutrition. “In the last year and a half, I’ve lost 40 pounds. A lot of that is due to my commitment to physical exercise, which the Y is part of,” says Barry. “My A1C is down and my blood sugar levels are good. Health wise, I’m probably in the best condition since I was in my 20’s.”
Barry and Fran also take Tai Chi classes at the Y. Fran says her husband has had knee problems in the past, and the class has really helped his mobility. “We went on our first trip this summer, and we went on a rigorous trail in Vermont. The Tai Chi helped him because you learn how to walk correctly. There are various things that he can do now because of the Tai Chi. That has been huge,” says Fran.
Barry and Fran say their experience in the Livestrong program helped them start their journey to an overall healthier lifestyle. Barry says anyone who is unsure about joining the program should give it a try. “Come in and look at the brochure. What do you have to lose? I can’t imagine anyone coming into this who has cancer and not benefiting from it,” says Barry. “People need support. Some people get it through church, some people get it through their social groups. This happened to be a venue that I was involved in and it worked for me.”
Barry’s cancer is currently in remission. He and Fran have continued their memberships at the Y, and are enjoying their experience. They are regulars in the Tai Chi classes. The Livestrong program is offered at YMCA Buffalo Niagara’s Independent Health, Ken-Ton, and Southtowns branches. For more information about the program and how to sign up for the next session, click here.
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Extended content: We asked Barry and Fran to describe their experience in the Livestrong program using just one word. Hear what they had to say:
The Y. For A Better Us.