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Livestrong at the YMCA: Free exercise program benefits West Michigan cancer survivors

Free 12-week exercise program benefits cancer survivors
Livestrong at the YMCA
Posted at 6:16 AM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 11:00:52-05

GRANDVILLE, Mich. — One in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. The good news is, many of them will recover and go on to live a long and healthy life. But it's the treatment that can often lead to fatigue, muscle loss and plenty of other nasty side effects. That's why the YMCA has created a program that's completely free and available to cancer survivors across West Michigan - offering strength, movement, support and community.

Ruth Veenstra is certainly reaping the benefits of regular exercise - mentally and physically. She says, "The physical activity just provides energy for you. Especially when you're done you think I did this and I feel really good." Important for everyone, but even more for her right now, she's in the middle of a cancer journey, diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year.

For cancer patients, exercise is proven to prevent recurrence, which is so important. Treatment can cause muscle loss, bone density loss, neuropathy, people get numbness, tingling, fatigue and chemo-brain. Tami Groothuis is an instructor with the Livestrong at the YMCA cancer survivor program. She says exercise can help patients with all of those things. The 12-week long program is dedicated to cancer survivors at most West Michigan YMCA locations. And it's completely free.

Groothuis says, "we just start slow because you know people are coming out of treatment maybe haven't been moving so much probably haven't been feeling so well and just struggling with what I call collateral damage from the treatment and so we start with a little bit of cardio, we teach weight training and we do stretching it's an overall program.”

More than just a workout, these classes bring survivors together, to share their experiences and advice. It was something Veenstra really appreciated. "We learned so much from each other besides this emotional support, you know you have symptoms, neuropathy and so somebody says well hey, have you tried this? Or I know this process might work for you? Why don’t you try that? We just encouraged each other and learn from each other it was so helpful definitely a community.”

That’s exactly what Groothuis loves to see with each session - something that also helped her after her own battle with cancer. "I was diagnosed back in 2014 with early-stage breast cancer as only 37-years old at the time, so that was a big deal and I had picked up a pamphlet at the Y showing the program and I thought I really want to do this. It helped me get through this and I fell in love with it and I thought how can I now give back to the cancer patient community.”

Ruth has graduated from the program but says she continues to work out to maintain all she's gained, and in the end, that's the goal of Livestrong at the YMCA program.

There's a new Livestrong at the YMCA session starting this February - and there are still spots available. Head to to learn more about it.