When Judy Jones first began attending a cancer-survivors' exercise program at the Rochester Area Family YMCA, she struggled to pedal a stationary bike for 10 minutes.

Thursday, she pedaled for 28 minutes and probably could have kept going.

When the Livestrong class started, Jones was asked to identify a goal she'd like to accomplish. She was unable, at that time, to tie her new tennis shoe on her right foot after recent treatment-required surgery.

"I can do that now. It's not simple. But I can do it," she said.

Jones is part of a collaborative pilot program at the Rochester Area Family Y, which collaborates with Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center and a national YMCA program called "Partners in Recovery."

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Nine people signed up for the first 12-week program and a second fitness class, for survivors of cancer of any type, begins in early January.

The medical centers helped connect patients to the rollout of the pilot program. Upcoming sessions will include cancer survivors who seek out the program on their own.

"My doctor had wanted me to exercise and lose weight," said Kay Jacobson, a retired Mayo Clinic employee who enjoys hobbies like quilting. "This was a good way to get it jump-started."

The fitness classes have made her feel more alert to her surroundings.

"I do feel better," she said.

Fitness coordinator Pennie Eisenbeis said four YMCA staff received extensive training in how to work with classes made up of varied fitness levels, what to do if a class participant has a treatment-related problem and how to help participants exercise despite limitations, such as a healing surgical wound.

The goal of the program, said project manager and YMCA Operations Director Talbird Lovan, is "to stay physically active. It's about changing their lifestyle so that exercise is part of their healing process."

According to the Livestrong Foundation, exercise is the "simplest way to reduce fatigue, improve their mood and bounce back from the debilitating effects of cancer treatment more quickly."

The class creates a sort of family atmosphere, with attendees — who officially graduated Thursday — planning to continue visiting the Y to exercise together.

One woman in the program has received support from fellow class members as she gets treated for a cancer return.

That's an example of the program focusing on "the whole person." According to the Y, participants work with Y staff to build muscle mass and strength, increase flexibility and endurance and improve functional ability.

Judy Dyba, a two-time cancer survivor, 19 years post-diagnosis, participated in the first 12-week program.

"They have taught us so much about our diets. It's been very enlightening," she said while pedaling a bike.

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Partners in Recovery program

Participants must be 18 or older and get a medical release form signed by a physician. Call Lovan at 287-2260, ext. 1013.