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Through YMCA program, cancer survivors find hope, purpose
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but for cancer survivor Mindy Mendizabal, health problems have struck not just twice but three times.
The 47-year-old New Cumberland resident is a two-time cancer survivor. Last year, she was diagnosed with a rare, degenerative neurological disease. In December she started walking with a cane, and by May she started using a walker. While her health continues to decline, she credits the Livestrong program at the YMCA of York for maintaining her spirit.
“This is not a great diagnosis to get, but the Y has helped me maintain my positivity,” she said.
Livestrong at the YMCA is a free, 12-week research-based program that supports cancer survivors in regaining their physical, emotional and spiritual strength. The small-group classes are held about four times a year at each of the four affiliated branches around York County. Each session includes individualized attention for participants, gradually introducing them to equipment and group exercise and teaching them how to regain their strength.
“I would never have tried to ride a bike,” Mendizabal said. “Now I do it three days a week.”
Getting on board: Mendizabal heard about Livestrong in the spring after a friend and former participant suggested she join. After she was done, she kept coming back.
The YMCA and Livestrong are “a bright light" during the darkest time of her life. She fills that time with an energy about her that can only be described as contagious. It’s in the way she greets old friends, workers, coaches and new faces.
That energy and enthusiasm are what YMCA healthy-living coordinator and Livestrong instructor Angie Brandt says she hopes everyone is able to take from the program.
“They get endorphins from the exercise, but there’s also a positive energy throughout the group,” Brandt said.
Mendizabal knows the facts.
Autosomal dominant leukodystrophy is a progressive degenerative neurological disorder with symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis, according to the National Institutes of Health. It has no cure, and the disease is expected to lead to a decrease or loss in hearing and vision, cognitive deterioration and epilepsy over the next decade before it progresses to a coma and eventually death.
However, that time isn’t here yet.
“I can be sick and hateful or sick and enjoy every moment," Mendizabal said. "It’s not what I wish, for certain, but I can see purpose in it already.”
Her face lights up when she talks about the “girlies” she’ll leave behind. She focuses her time on her three daughters, Mia, 11, Ava, 12, and Sophia,15, and three times a week you can find her on bike No. 12 for 9 a.m. cycling. The class has replaced the runners’ high she used to get running outside.
“(The YMCA) is one of the things that helps me live as long as I get to live,” she said.
Fundraiser set: The Golf & Gala Invitational funds the YMCA of York County’s Livestrong program for the entire year. This year’s golf outing is Tuesday, Oct. 11, at Hanover Country Club, with a noon shotgun start. The gala will be from 6:15 to 11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14, at the Wyndham Garden Grand Ball Room and features a keynote from former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Tickets can be purchased through Monday or until they sell out at www.yorkcoymca.org.