Caring Connections Thrive with Exercise
Caring Connections, a cooperative program of the Bangor Y and Eastern Maine Medical Center offers free breast and cervical health services for uninsured women and support for women diagnosed with breast cancer. Upper body land and pool exercises, consisting of range of motion and stretching were historically provided as part of the support group meeting time. Over the years, through attending the Avon Forums and other conferences we began learning about the importance of exercise and weight control in reducing breast cancer recurrence. At the Avon Forum In 2012 I heard Kathryn Schmitz speak on weight lifting and its role in the prevention of lymphedema. Hearing her speak helped me to understand how being strong and fit is so important in survivorship. We felt we should be incorporating all of this new information into an up to date exercise program for breast cancer survivors.
Our Director, Suzanne Brunner brought together staff from the Bangor Y Health Fitness Department and Eastern Maine Medical Center. A member of the Health Fitness Department became certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a Cancer Exercise Trainer, a certification that Kathryn Schmitz helped to develop. Our program "Thrive with Exercise" offers breast cancer survivors who have completed chemo and radiation the opportunity to exercise in small groups (5 to 7 per group) which meet twice a week for 12 week sessions. The classes offer cardio fitness, strength training and balance exercises. There are also three group meetings with the Y staff dietitian. The program costs $35 for Y members and $50 for non-members. The Bangor Y also provides scholarship assistance so that no woman is denied access to the program.
After the first 12 week session participants had lost an average of three pounds, had lowered their resting heart rates by an average of 3.6 beats per minute and lowered their heart rates during activity by an average of 15.2 beats per minute. Blood pressures were lowered an average of 5 points systolic and 4.4 points diastolic. Participants increased the number of push-ups they were able to do by an average of 24.3! The women's response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive.
The "Thrive" program continues to offer two sessions that each meet twice per week. Along with the two regular sessions, participants of Thrive are invited to attend other YMCA classes such as Yoga, Tai Chi, other land and water group classes, as well as use of the fitness facilities any time at no additional charge.
The women who have participated in Thrive! Rave about the program. Several of them have been participating from the beginning and re-enroll every session. They are the best advertisement for the program and are often encouraging other women in our support group to participate in the program. One of the biggest fans of "Thrive with Exercise" has been able to reinstate her annual 3 day hike on the Appalachian Trail, and comments about the program: "It's like I'm getting my life back. Hey wait, I've got my life back!"
In the future we hope to offer an exercise group that welcomes survivors of other types of cancer. We would also like to provide one on one sessions at the cancer treatment center for those undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation. We envision the cancer exercise trainer assisting patients to develop home programs as exercise has been shown to be helpful in decreasing treatment related side-effects.