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I am Living Large and Living Strong

Posted on March 13, 2017 by Chrystal Hedges

The Livestrong program offered by the local YMCA is more than just an exercise program. Designed to help cancer survivors who have found that returning to physical activity is a new burden after a tough battle, it is a life line. That’s it—a Life Line to begin to Live Strong!

My breast cancer journey began March 4, 2013. By April 2016, I had been through six months of chemo, seven weeks of daily radiation treatment, a mastectomy and five additional surgical procedures, including breast reconstruction. I found that my life revolved around cancer and getting over cancer. Gaining strength to do more than push a grocery cart and unload the groceries after a full day of work seemed like all I could handle.

Then came an email at work that described the Livestrong program at the YMCA. I looked for a session that began as soon as possible, before I found reasons to fill up my calendar. I had made up my mind that to move forward, I needed to start moving. And what better way than with other participants who had been down a similar road? Other people who knew fatigue, who knew fear, who knew challenges, who knew weaknesses, who knew spiritual strength, and had grown to appreciate a life that may have been taken for granted.

So, my Livestrong program began at the Northside YMCA with 11 other cancer survivors who not only had survived breast cancer, but lymphoma, eye cancer and even brain cancer. We could bring a “cheerleader” to support us during our two times a week, 12-week participation. It was encouraged to have a “partner”—someone you felt comfortable with and would keep you on track. The best part was that we laughed! We laughed with each other and at ourselves. The certified fitness instructors were there to guide us and help us train and learn to get stronger, in a manner that was specific to each and every one of us—the muscle limitations, the weak knees, the weak bodies. We each had an area that they helped us overcome. And they cheered us! I remember getting on the rowing machine and wanting to row 1000 meters in under six minutes. I had been getting closer and closer to that goal, and they stood in front of me and cheered me to 5:56!

We got to sample lots of different types of exercise programs, and soon found that there were trainers we loved and classes we loved. Before I knew it, I became a regular in the practice of yoga—along with several other ladies in the program. I have made new and best friends. And we still contact each other and hug each other when we have celebrations—such as a medical release to do yoga again after another surgery. I am getting close to the end of my free year of YMCA membership as a successful participant of the Livestrong program. It has been one of the best things I ever did. I am Living Large and Living Strong!

By Suzen Rodesney

Oklahoma Department of Mines

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Chrystal Hedges

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Chrystal Hedges received her Bachelor's of Science degree from St. Gregory's University in Shawnee, Oklahoma and received her Master's of Public Health in Health Promotion Sciences from OU Health Sciences Center. She has ten and a half years of experience working in the public health arena promoting and advocating for health and well-being in various capacities. Her current role as a well-being program coordinator is to provide state employees and their families with information and opportunities to learn, grow and enrich their lives for the better. Her passion and advocacy for health and well-being has led her to one of the most important roles in her life, serving as a foster and adoptive parent. Ms. Hedges has been a foster parent for 5 years and currently has two foster children and two adoptive children.