How the Y’s cancer survivor program got Elaine back on the trail

Elaine Lyttle would still need her grandchildren’s help getting up from playing on the floor if it hadn’t been for the LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA program.

In fact, she would likely be spending most of her days in a recliner and in pain.

Instead the 67-year-old living with metastatic breast cancer can be seen sweating on a YMCA recumbent bike and hiking the wildflower-strewn paths all over the Pacific Northwest.

Elaine was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2014 and quickly learned that it had spread to her liver. 

“They gave me 3 years to live,” she said. 

Her first breast cancer treatment medication gave her so much pain that she couldn’t get out of bed. 

She turned to her doctors for advice and, after switching her medication, they told her she just needed to move more. 

“I don’t care what you eat, just move,” Elaine recalls two doctors telling her.

Elaine tried on her own. She turned to her passion: hiking. But she found that she regularly did too much — pushing through the pain and injuring herself. 

“I grew up with the motto ‘No pain, no gain,’” she said. “It took the Y’s LiveSTRONG program to teach me to ‘Start low, go slow.’”

She joined LIVESTRONG at the YMCA in January 2015 and was a participant in the very first 12-week class offered at the Eugene Family YMCA back in January 2016. Her initial assessment was terrible, she said. 

“I couldn’t balance on one foot,” she said. “I couldn’t walk easily and I had no flexibility.”

Program coordinators Colleen Glick and Lisa Milton taught class participants how to slowly regain and increase their strength, balance and flexibility. Elaine learned how to properly use the weight machines, the cardiovascular equipment and which exercises she needed most so she could be out doing what she loves.

“If I hadn’t done this program, I wouldn’t be hiking,” Elaine said. “I wouldn’t have been able to get up off the recliner.”

Last year, Elaine climbed Spencer’s Butte and she regularly hikes Skinner’s Butte, the Ridgeline Trail and Wild Iris Ridge. She plans to hike along the Columbia River Gorge with her sister and niece this month and she’ll be hiking and traveling with her brother in June.

“I’ve done more traveling since LIVESTRONG at the YMCA than I’ve done in my whole life,” she said. “We all have things we’d like to do; I’ve just got to do it now. The Y gave me the chance.”

The LiveSTRONG at the YMCA program is a free 12-week small group program in its third year at our local Y. The program is 100% subsidized by the Eugene Family YMCA and private donations.