After Portage resident Patty Bartos was diagnosed with cancer, she found hope in a program that improves health and creates connections.

LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, a national program offered at several YMCAs across the country, began at the Valparaiso facility about five years ago and has since served more than 150 survivors.

The program is open to anyone who has been affected by cancer in their lives.

“It does not matter what type or how long ago they may have been diagnosed with cancer,” said Brittany Tripp, associate director of wellness for the Valparaiso Family YMCA. “We want to support all survivors in building their best healthy living routine possible.”

For Bartos, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2016, treatment that included chemotherapy, surgery and radiation took a toll on her both physically and emotionally. The LIVESTRONG program, however, helped her build strength and endurance, while increasing her energy, she said.

“Being active has helped ease the side effects of treatment, improve my mood, reduce stress and to just overall feel better and more hopeful and positive,” Bartos said.

As part of the program, the now 59-year-old learned how to properly use the exercise machines and to try out a variety of fun classes, she said.

“It has provided emotional strength and encouragement from the leaders and other cancer survivors, and I have formed lasting friendships,” Bartos said. “It gave me a place to go twice a week where I knew I would be welcomed, supported and encouraged.”

The LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program offers cancer survivors a free 12-week health and wellness program designed specifically to increase endurance, build healthy muscle mass and strength, improve confidence, and create connections and support among survivors and in the Y community, Tripp said.

“As we know, health and wellness is not just physical,” she said. “It’s spiritual in mind and body as well. We want to support and focus on the whole person in our LIVESTRONG program, not just the disease.”

During the program, participants meet twice per week for a little more than an hour. Led by certified LIVESTRONG at the YMCA coaches, the groups work together to interact through guided discussions and a physical activity for that day.

“We assist in helping each member feel comfortable in a variety of fitness settings,” Tripp said. The program includes a variety of activities such as yoga, water fitness, wellness center strength training, dance fitness and more to guide each participant in finding an activity that appeals to them personally, she said.

“We know that everyone is unique and we strive to find a routine for each person that they will enjoy continuing even after the program is finished,” Tripp said.

It is not required that a participant be a member of the YMCA.

“The program is free for everyone and here to support each person in a positive environment to be well,” Tripp said. “Cancer knows no boundaries, but we believe in the strength of community and that every survivor deserves unconditional support, a chance to belong and an opportunity to feel normal as they regain their strength.”

Bartos said she encourages any cancer survivor to sign up for the program, which helps with hope, healing and wellness while on the road to recovery.

“The benefits reach beyond the scope of this program as it has given me the confidence to continue going to the YMCA and to be physically active,” she said. “It has given me a hopeful outlook on life.”

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