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Women Learn To Be Fit for Life

Y-Me Supports Local Breast Cancer Survivors

In 1999, the National Capital Area Affiliate of Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization held a "Positive Yoga" workshop for a group of breast cancer survivors.

When the group approached the yoga instructor about doing it again, the instructor suggested the nonprofit hold a fitness day instead, which included a number of different fitness techniques and programs.

Next Sunday, March 21, the local Y-Me chapter will play host to its third Fit For Life day, this year at George Mason University, which will feature 27 workshops including yoga, Pilates, dynamic walking, Latin dancing, Tai Chi, belly dancing, chair aerobics, acupuncture, Reiki, massage, and numerous nutritional seminars.

"When people get a chronic disease, people look to alternatives to traditional medicines," said Kathy Alleman, the executive director of the National Capital Area Affiliate of Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization. "It's not geared toward cancer survivors, but rather everyone who is interested."

The all-day event runs from 12:30-4:30 p.m. at the Johnson Center on the Mason campus.

PARTICIPANTS WILL get to choose three seminars to attend, with each seminar lasting about an hour, as a way of sampling different fitness programs.

"It's an afternoon where women experience a lot different things," said Sharon Goodrich of Fairfax Station, the publicity director for the local Y-Me chapter. "The ladies will actually go through some of the basic exercises, so we recommend bringing a floor mat and wearing comfortable clothing."

Last year's event, held in Maryland, drew about 170 women. This year, with a bigger facility, organizers are hoping for a turnout of at least 225 people.

Besides spending the day concentrating on healthier living, the women will also receive information about the local Y-Me chapter, which serves Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. and is based in Alexandria.

THE LOCAL Y-ME CHAPTER grew out of a breast cancer survivor support group — "My Image After Breast Cancer" — created in 1986 by two survivors at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. The group provided support and education to newly diagnosed patients. By 1988, the group became a chapter of Y-Me, a national nonprofit breast cancer organization; and officially changed its name in 1996.

The focus of the group is to provide educational and support services rather than to function as an advocacy group.

"When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, you feel like you are the only woman ever diagnosed and that tomorrow will be your last day," said Nancy Finken of McLean, a nearly three-year survivor and Y-Me volunteer. "When I was diagnosed, my daughter told me about Y-Me and I thought what could they do for me. Finally I called when I was going through radiation and thought why didn't I call them sooner."

"We originally became an affiliate of Y-Me because we had similar goals," said Alleman. "We're here for the person who can't wait for a cure. We're their life line."

Alleman is not a survivor, however, three members of her family have had breast cancer. She is also the only paid employee of the group.

The chapter is working toward making the Fit For Life event its signature fund-raising campaign. Alleman said it is a proactive way for women to take control of their health.

Besides the yearly fitness event, Goodrich said the local Y-Me chapter offers a 24-hour HOPEline, 703-461-9616, for patients and family members seeking information or just comfort. The line is solely staffed by breast cancer survivors.

"Women just diagnosed don't know what to do or they just want someone to talk to," said Finken, who volunteers on the HOPEline. "Doctors are not a support. They leave all the decisions up to you and expect you to make those decisions with no information."

The group has also created a local resource book, filled with information ranging from area doctors and medical facilities to places to buy wigs.

In addition, the chapter holds "brown bag" seminars to provide information to businesses and civic organizations about breast cancer.

"Y-Me is a support group. After being diagnosed, women go into shock," said Goodrich, 60, whose mother died from breast cancer when Goodrich was 6-years-old.

TO REGISTER for the Fit For Life event, visit the Web site, www.y-me.org/nca or call 703-461-9595. The cost is $25 in advance and $35 at the door. Refreshments will be provided.