By: Greg Lee, President, LIVESTRONG Foundation, & Dr. Matt Longjohn, MPH, National Health Officer, YMCA of the USA
Michelle Lavitt was a healthy 38-year old mother of two when she heard the words all of us dread: “You have cancer.” Like many patients, treatment took a lot out of her. She lost muscle and stamina and frequently told family, “I can’t do that. It’s too much for me.” She had beaten the disease but not its effects.
Michelle’s struggle to regain her strength and quality of life is something most, if not all, of the 15.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. face. As our success in early detection and treatment increases, so do the number of challenges cancer survivors face — mental, physical, social and often financial.
But the conventional wisdom about cancer has us believe that if we could just uncover “the cure,” the problem would be solved. We tend to forget the post-cancer struggles survivors like Michelle face every day.
There is more to cancer than “the cure.”
As the Obama-Biden administration’s National Cancer Moonshot initiative takes off, “survivorship,” a philosophy that focuses on patients’ well-being during and after cancer, must be front and center. By 2026, there will be 20 million Americans living with the effects of the disease and their needs deserve to be part of this important effort.
To address some of those needs, LIVESTRONG and YMCA of the USA partnered in 2007 to develop a 12-week evidence-based community-located program that helps adult cancer patients and survivors like Michelle reclaim their health and well-being. LIVESTRONG at the YMCA aids survivors in improving their strength and physical fitness, diminishing the severity of therapy side effects and developing supportive relationships. Researchers from Yale University and Dana Farber Cancer Institute found the program improves survivors’ overall quality of life, increases cardiovascular endurance, decreases cancer-related fatigue, and helps them meet or exceed recommended amounts of physical activity. It is one of the ways we can and must invest in survivorship, rebuilding physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
The National Cancer Moonshot initiative and rapidly growing survivorship community have served as a catalyst for a deeper commitment to this program. In response to Vice President Biden’s call to action at the Moonshot cancer summit on June 29 in Washington, the LIVESTRONGFoundation and YMCA of the USA are jointly announcing a commitment to reach the milestone of having served 100,000 patients and survivors through LIVESTRONG at the YMCA within the next five years, more than doubling the number served to date. We will achieve this goal by further expanding access beyond the more than 500 existing community locations and by integrating with treatment centers throughout the U.S.
LIVESTRONG and YMCA of the USA have three hopes with this commitment. First, we aim to empower survivors and help them feel strong again. Second, we are committed to building the evidence base LIVESTRONG at the YMCA provides, showing it is cost effective and has a positive impact on communities. We believe LIVESTRONG at the YMCA should be offered to clinicians as an evidence-based resource in order to decrease costs and improve recovery. We hope to continue to standardize the quality of care delivered by the program throughout all of its many locations. And even though the program is offered at little to no cost for participants, in time, we hope that insurance providers will reimburse delivery of the program because what it provides to survivors is so important.
Half-way through her LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program, Michelle found, “Instead of being frustrated about what I cannot do, I am proud of what I can do.” She can carry her young daughter in her arms again and make it up a flight of stairs without stopping to rest.
Let us defy conventional wisdom by expanding our thinking about cancer to include survivorship. Let us invest in the 15.5 million Americans who have beaten cancer but still face its effects every day. We are standing with survivors because our third hope is others will, too.
For more information about LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, visithttp://www.livestrongymca.org.
Greg Lee is President of the LIVESTRONG Foundation, based in Austin, which serves people affected by cancer today and advocates for funding and policies that increase access to quality care for cancer patients and survivors. Dr. Matt Longjohn, MPH, is National Health Officer and Vice President for Evidence-Based Health Interventions and Community Integrated Health at YMCA of the USA, the national resource office for the Y, one of the nation’s leading nonprofits strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.