Heidi Howe, of Rochester, does bicep curls while working out before her Livestrong at the YMCA graduation Thursday at the YMCA of Greater Rochester. Livestrong at the YMCA is a 12-week program for adult cancer survivors. “I started out not being able to get out of a chair,” said Howe, who had lymphoma.

Heidi Howe did bicep curls minutes before her graduation ceremony at the YMCA of Rochester.

The YMCA’s newest Livestrong graduates completed one last workout minutes before they filed into the adjoining room for their certificates.

Howe, who is in recovery from lymphoma, said being sick for two years (first with flu-like symptoms from the early cancer, then treatment and recovery) wreaked havoc on her physical fitness.

Livestrong, a training program for cancer survivors, begins with a baseline assessment and ends with another after 12 weeks of training, said Pennie Eisenbeis, the YMCA’s chronic disease coordinator.

At Howe’s first assessment, she was unable to stand up without using her arms. On Thursday, she completed 20 reps in a leg machine.

“One of my goals was to to stand up gracefully, like there wasn’t anything wrong,” she said. “I’ve done better than that.”

The Rochester resident had heard of the program through her hematologist, who told her the program was “life-changing.”

Through the weekly workout classes, Howe connected with her fellow cancer survivors and learned how to effectively use the Y’s workout room.

“We get a lot of people who are very sedentary,” Eisenbeis said. “They don’t trust their bodies anymore. Our goal is to teach them to trust themselves again.”

Along the way, the classes often form strong bonds.

“You work out together, gossip together, worry about each other, check in with each other,” Howe said. “You notice when someone else has achieved something, and you’re proud of that.”

The programs are aided by volunteers from WSU-Rochester’s nursing program and Mayo Clinic’s physical therapy program.

The nursing students at Thursday’s graduation program acted as cheerleaders for the members.

“They’re improving their physical fitness, but also their social and mental wellbeing, Danielle Baierl, one of the nursing students, said.

There are three Livestrong courses a year, each with no more than 12 cancer survivors.

The next session begins Jan. 15. Sessions will be held in the evening.

The Livestrong program may have ended for Howe, but her fitness journey is just beginning. She said she plans to sign up for a new YMCA membership and is searching for a new weekly class to take with some of her Livestrong classmates.

“The medical community was great to heal me,” Howe said. “But this community has made me strong.”

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Anne writes for Rochester Magazine and the Post Bulletin, and edits 507 Magazine. She hails from Lafayette, Indiana and enjoys reading, tea-drinking, and her cat, Newt Scameownder.

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