Mary Ho had been diagnosed with breast cancer years ago which resulted in a double mastectomy. During her two-year cancer-free check-up, her oncologist told her she would live the rest of her life with chronic pain.
The oncologist was talking about Mary’s neuropathy (nerve damage due to chemotherapy) and her increased pains from her arthritis and fibromyalgia (widespread muscle pain and fatigue). As Mary and her husband John left the office, the oncologist handed them a Living Strong, Living Well (LSLW) pamphlet. When she got home, she fell into an emotional black hole.
John looked into LSLW, the free 12-week strength and fitness program sponsored by The Stanford Health Improvement Program and the YMCA. He encouraged Mary to attend. John had been with Mary through all the appointments and treatments. He took two years off to fully care and look after her. John kept her going. “I’ve never had to worry about a thing,” Mary remarked. LSLW understands how important the support person is and includes them in the program.
Mary had never been to a gym in her life. She’d never even been on a treadmill. She hadn’t worn a swim suit since she was in her thirties and she was going to be 70 next March! “But,” Mary said, “I knew I needed to do this program. What an opportunity! What a gift!”
Mary and John have six grandchildren, ranging from ages one to sixteen. Mary mentioned she wanted to participate in the program not only for herself, but for them as well. She felt as if it were her last chance to make a difference in her life. “I figured I might not get rid of the pain, but I could get stronger. Just learning about this program made me feel heard. It seemed to me that someone out there was listening and understood the damage chemo ravaged on the body and mind. I was so excited to get the program’s acceptance call. I committed right away.”
During the first class Mary was very nervous, especially since she wasn’t expecting so many other participants there. However, Mary mentioned that the staff—Sherry, Leanne, and Martha—made everyone feel at ease with plenty of encouragement and smiles.
Mary doesn’t remember exactly what reason she gave for being there, except for the fact she needed to get stronger. “I was so weak and in so much pain my husband had to help me walk in and sit,” she recalled.
Each class started in “The Wellness Center” where participants learned all about the strengthening machines that would help them achieve their goals. Mary first started on a treadmill at the .5 speed setting for five minutes and didn’t fly off as she always thought she would! The participants ended that first session and each continuing session with balancing and stretching exercises. Mary didn’t realize how much she needed that—even her husband John improved!
What continued to bring the pair back to each session was meeting people who had gone through similar experiences. Each had their own story of how chemo affected them and those around them, and everyone was willing to share. Making friends and realizing that they weren’t alone was the best part for Mary.
By the end of the program Mary could get up from a chair on her own and walk on her own. She now walks for 20 minutes at 1.6 speed on the treadmill.
“I now have hope. I have goals: I want to address unwanted weight changes, get up off the floor on my own, and work up the nerve to try the pool. I know these accomplishments will come as we continue with the Y. We can do this because of the generosity of donors to the Y. I won’t quit. I want to keep going.”