I started volunteering at my local cancer support centre about 6 years ago. The centre has a large garden and I spend 3 or 4 hours each week assisting with its maintenance. A couple of years ago I was asked if I’d like to become involved in the Strides for Life programme. I readily agreed.
The programme was devised by Marie Murphy, in conjunction with the Irish Cancer Society. Marie is a former Irish Olympic athlete who lived and worked for many years in California. She spent 14 years working with breast cancer researcher and author, Dr Susan Love, researching the beneficial effects of exercise for breast cancer patients. During the training she provided for those of us assigned to deliver the programme in Ireland, she related many inspirational stories about patients with whom she had worked. It was in the course of this work that she and Dr Love were able to demonstrate that the rate of recurrence of cancer among patients who adopted a structured programme of exercise is much less than in those who shun exercise.
At the Cuisle centre we provide the fifteen week Strides for Life programme twice each year: February – May and August – December. The group meets weekly. The first week participants are timed walking 1 mile. This provides a measure of their current state of fitness from which they are assigned an appropriate exercise programme. During the following week participants are expected to walk for 15 or 20 minutes on alternate days.
At the start of each of the next 4 weeks the group walks together for 30 or 45 minutes. Because some participants will be able to walk much further than others during this time, we ensure there are 2-3 people accompanying them. This is my role, along with maintaining the necessary records. Week five is a timed mile once again, to assess improved fitness and assign a new programme. The five week cycle is repeated a second time, making up the fifteen week total.
Alongside the exercise there is good conversation and participants certainly appreciate the companionship established over the fifteen weeks. Some friendships established on the programme continue after the programme is complete. Some participants take part in two successive programmes.
Strides for Life is one of several services provided by the centre to support cancer patients and their families as they come to terms with their diagnosis. Check out the centre’s website for more.
S is also for ‘Stronger than Yesterday: Living your Life Beyond Adversity’. It also stands for surviving which is what the book is about. Surviving is also the aim of the Strides for Life programme and everything else that happens at the centre. There is no charge for the services of the centre which receives no state funding. It is financed entirely from voluntary donations and fund-raising events.
Use the comments below to tell me about a voluntary or community service with which you are involved.