Rising Again

Douglas Hoppock and his wife, Sherry, attend yoga classes at the Wimberley Village Library twice a week. During a class in 2017, their yoga instructor, Carla Daws, mentioned that there was a program at the Springs Family YMCA for cancer survivors called LIVESTRONG® at the Y. Carla, who is one of the instructors at the Springs YMCA, interviewed Douglas for the program and thought he was an ideal candidate.

“I had – and still have – prostate cancer since 2011,” Douglas said.“ I had surgery, radiation treatments and then, hormone therapy. When Carla mentioned the program, I thought, ‘Wow, there is something out there for us, and they are offering this class at no cost. What’s to lose about it?”

In 2007, LIVESTRONG® partnered with the YMCA of the USA to create this program. LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA is a free 12-week, YMCA-funded and YMCA-managed physical activity and well-being program designed to help adult cancer survivors achieve their holistic health goals.

“I actually began the program on an ironic date,” Douglas said. “We started the class on September 11, 2017, and we always think of that as a sad or disastrous day. And now, I look back on it as the proverbial Phoenix rising from the ashes. That was a starting point for me. I will never look at that date as a negative again, but I will view it as a rebirth.”

In addition to physical benefits, LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA focuses on the emotional well-being of survivors and their families by providing a supportive community where people impacted by cancer can connect during treatment and beyond.

“It was all wonderful, but we did a ‘Share Day’ where we basically told the group about our experience with cancer, and that was really important to me because you got to know everyone,” Douglas said. “When you are around a group of people who have a wide-range of abilities – and we had some people who were very ill – it’s really hard to feel sorry for yourself, especially when you’re around other people with courage. They were there every day with a smile.”

The LIVESTRONG® at the Y instructors are trained in cancer survivorship, post-rehabilitation exercise and supportive cancer care.

“The first day, we had a tour of the facility, and they told us what to expect,” Douglas said. “That’s the first day I met Bernadette, who is an amazing person all the way around.”

Bernadette Johnson is the Health and Wellness Director at the Springs Family YMCA, and alongside Carla, she is a certified LIVESTRONG® at the Y instructor.

“I remember the first day I met Bernadette,” Douglas said. “She smiled, looked at us and said, ‘You’re going to love to hate me because I’m going to push you.’ And you could take that as ‘Oh no, we’ve got a drill sergeant,’ but that smile behind it said more.”

LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA Instructors learn the importance of exercise in cancer survivorship and how to modify and progress exercises based off each individual’s specific needs, thus providing instructors with the comprehension to create a safe and appropriate exercise program for each program participant.

“When I met Douglas that first week, I thought who is this bearer of light?” Bernadette said. “He and his lovely wife, Sherry, exude an attitude of joy and grace and completely exemplify our mission statement.”

Survivors and their families receive a membership at the YMCA for the duration of the program.

“Sherry and I decided to join the Y, full membership, because it was such a great momentum that we had going,” Douglas said.

Douglas and Sherry try to come to the Y four days a week. They’ve joined an Active Older Adult aerobics class. They lift weights, ride the bikes, and they’ve expanded their membership to include their three-year-old grandson who visits every weekend.

“Because of our experience with the Y, our grandson’s parents – my son and daughter-in-law – have decided to join the YMCA of Austin,” Douglas said. “They’ve seen what good it has done for us. I don’t like to live with any regrets, but my only regret is that I wish I had started 20 years ago. But now, they are starting 20 years ahead of us.”

In a 2015 study conducted at Yale University and Dana Farber Cancer Institute, researchers found LIVESTRONG® participants experienced significant increases in physical activity, overall quality of life and fitness performance as well as decreases in cancer-related fatigue.

“For many people, quality of life is compromised after a cancer diagnosis. This study showed that exercise can improve patients’ lives in a myriad of ways, regardless of how active they were in the past,” said Dr. Melinda Irwin, associate professor of epidemiology in Yale School of Public Health and associate director of population sciences at the Yale Cancer Center in the study. “In addition to quality of life, physical activity is associated with risk of dying from cancer. LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA program could be a national model to increase exercise in cancer patients across the country.”

The national program has served more than 30,000 cancer survivors in more than 400 communities across the nation. The YMCA of Austin has served 848 graduates in total, and 93 graduates in 2017.

“I’m going to say something that sounds really weird,” Douglas said. “Cancer has made me a much better person. I wouldn’t want it if I had a choice, but in another way, we are all finite. None of us are going to live forever, and things that get thrown at our lives that we must endure make us stronger, and they change you. A value of a minute changes. But you know when there is an end to something, you learn to appreciate everything more.”