Bob Wendel closes his eyes in concentration as he completes a set of leg curls on a machine at the Stateline Family YMCA in Beloit.
What once was a fairly simple exercise for him is now more difficult as he tries to build back muscles he wasn’t able to use for months, which caused him to lose 80 pounds and 8 inches off his waist. This is because he was treated for pancreatic cancer.
“I have very little muscle but it’s starting to come back, just not as fast as I’d like it to,” Wendel said. “It’s funny — doctors told me to lose weight for so many years and now the last few months they tell me to gain weight.”
Although regaining his strength after a Whipple Procedure and numerous chemotherapy treatments has been difficult, Wendel has had the help of Jan Blankenship, a trainer at the YMCA who leads the LIVESTRONG program.
This 12-week, three times per year program began a little over a year ago with a pilot program. At no cost, participants receive bi-weekly workouts with a trainer at the Beloit locations, free membership to the YMCA for themselves, their families and caregivers, and specialized instruction, including from yoga instructors and dieticians.
This national program is based out of the YMCA, but through an application process, the Beloit location was able to start its own program. The class has a basic format, but it is individualized to fit the needs and abilities of each participant.
Blankenship said she hopes the YMCA can expand the program because while other YMCA’s have waiting lists, the Beloit location has relatively small classes.
“It’s really about getting the word out,” she said, adding that she understood how important restorative therapy was — she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. She said it was important to connect with other people struggling with cancer.
“We have the resources, we have the facility to help them with that strength piece and sometimes when they’re finished with the treatment, they wonder, ‘What do I do?’,” she said.
Pat Pickering said she was fortunate because she found the local support group Bosom Buddies, which led her to the LIVESTRONG program. She said she enjoyed the class and hoped that more people would sign up.
“I like the instructors, I like the size of the group and it’s basically fitted to what we can do so far as recovering,” she said. She said she liked that the program offered different types of workouts each week, like spinning and yoga.
Back in the basement of the YMCA, Wendel is finishing up his leg exercises. Although he is considered in remission, he will have to see a doctor every three months for the rest of his life because pancreatic cancer has a high rate of recurrence. He said the class has been good and he hopes to get a membership either at the YMCA or another facility closer to his home in Lake Summerset near Durand.
“All of the people we’ve worked with here and the people going through the program I’ve found extremely nice to work with,” Wendel said, “I wish I had known about the LIVESTRONG program earlier because some of the other aspects would’ve been helpful as far as the different support programs.”
For more information about the LIVESTRONG program or to sign up, contact the YMCA at 608-365-2261.
Instructor Jan Blankenship (left) and Bob Wendel concentrate as they practice balancing exercises as part of the LIVESTRONG program at the Stateline Family YMCA in Beloit. The program turns one year and Blankenship says she hopes it continues to grow.