EAST PROVIDENCE — Eight years ago, when Jim Valin moved to Riverside, he was a very healthy man. He worked out at the gym on a regular basis and enjoyed all that life had to offer.
A diagnosis of a bladder tumor three years later resulted in surgery and some chemo, but Mr. Valin continued to enjoy good health and an active lifestyle. When he received the diagnosis of prostate cancer following a routine PSA test two years after his surgery, it was a different story.
At first, Mr. Valin took it lightly. “They gave me a month to decide,” he said. “I could opt for surgery, radiation, or just wait and see.”
He asked his son, a doctor, and did some research, opting for robotic surgery.
When the surgeon walked in on surgery day, he could tell something was up. “It’s not good,” the doctor began, and explained that the mass had grown. Mr. Valin was to undergo seven weeks of radiation, then surgery, and then another seven weeks of radiation. By the end of his treatment, Jim was fatigued and had lost much of his strength and stamina.
Being an open person, he mentioned his experience to the woman at the front desk when he went to the Bayside Y to work out. She told him about LiveStrong at the Y, A 12-week exercise program for adult cancer survivors who have recently become de-conditioned or chronically fatigued from their disease and/or treatment. The group meets twice a week for 75 minutes and consists of strength training and cardio conditioning, with a relaxation/stretching segment at the end of each class.
He called the number that afternoon and signed up, and the next week, he joined the group.
“I can hardly tell you how great this was,” Mr. Valin said. “I am so lucky to have found it.” He describes the experience as a mix of building strength and receiving social support. “I hate to use the term support group,” he smiled, “but the interaction was the best thing in working toward better health. There was so much optimism and sharing.”
The group leader began by testing all the members for physical limitation and strength. They then worked with personal trainers, took part in yoga practice and utilized cardio machines and weights.
“We all worked to our abilities, and celebrated our progress as we went along. There was one member who died, but he did everything he could. It was amazing to see him try so hard. We were really on a journey together, and by the end of the program we had bonded as a group. When we were re-tested at the end, we were amazed at how much strength we had regained,” Mr. Valin said.
One exercise in particular stands out for Mr. Valin. The leader spread cards on a table one day. On each card was a photograph, and the participants were invited to choose a card that represented something they wanted to do once they were ready to get on with life. One person saw a musical note, and said she wanted to learn to play the piano.
“For me, there was a photo of the Eiffel Tower. That spoke to me, and gave me something to work toward,” Mr. Valin. “Our loved ones are often so fearful; we don’t even want to bring it up sometimes because it is so scary for them.”
But in LiveStrong, he continued, it’s okay to talk about whatever is on your mind.
“Cancer is an illness, and you need to approach it that way,” said Mr. Valin. “LiveStrong is a place where you can talk about it all without the emotion.”
Mr. Valin has continued to be a part of the group, attending as an alumnus, and in December, he went to Paris with his partner. He encourages anyone who is dealing with the effects of cancer to give LiveStrong a try.
A new LiveStrong group is starting at the Riverside Healthy Living Center at 660 Bullocks Point Ave. on March 18. For more information or to register, contact Judy Cerrito at 828-0130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
— By Kim Stowell