LIVESTRONG at the YMCA Participants Can Take Exercises Home

By: Mollie Shauger | Friday, October 18, 2019 | News

Dr. Valerie Ablaza, center, with nurses Viktorija Fortino, left, and Danielle Ortiz, right. Credit: Krystina Fernicola

Participants of the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program can now take their exercises with them wherever they go, thanks to the generosity of one local group of physicians. 

Montclair plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Valerie Ablaza, who is a partner at The Plastic Surgery Group, recently donated 100 black and yellow drawstring backpacks to the LIVESTRONG program at the Sussex County, Wayne and West Essex YMCAs, as well as the Greater Bergen County YMCA, which is working to offer the program at that branch. The bags contain a yellow LIVESTRONG T-shirt, YMCA water bottle, and two resistance bands with instruction guides for exercises and stretches to do at home. 

LIVESTRONG at the YMCA is a free 12-week membership program for adults who are undergoing or have completed their cancer treatments. Through small group classes led by certified instructors, the program helps participants to gradually regain their strength so that they can feel physically and emotionally strong enough to continue with regular exercise. 

Dr. Ablaza performs cancer-related procedures as part of her services, including breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. Ablaza’s patients include those with breast cancer, and she sees them within the first stages of their diagnosis, through their treatment and recovery. Many of them feel empowered after having gone through surgery and want to connect with people who share similar experiences. The LIVESTRONG program gives them that opportunity, she said. 

“I wanted to go one step beyond just admiring the LIVESTRONG program,” said Ablaza, who also sits on the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges. “I know medicine and I’ve taken care of cancer patients. Providing the bags is another way in which I can connect my work to cancer survivors who are at a turning point in their recovery.” 

“Exercise is key” during the recovery process, said Alma Dhuyvetter, Wellness director at the Sussex County YMCA. 

She pointed to a review of 100 studies involving thousands of participants that assessed the effectiveness of exercise on the risk of mortality, recurrence and adverse effects. Exercise has been shown, when compared to no or less exercise, to lower the risk and recurrence of cancer, and that exercise is an important adjunct therapy. 

Recent graduates of the LIVESTRONG program at the Sussex County YMCA display their bags.

The exercise bands will remind the LIVESTRONG participants to keep up their fitness regimen, especially on the days when they are tired and may not feel like leaving home, or after they complete the program, she noted.

According to the American Cancer Society, regular exercise during cancer treatment can improve physical abilities, balance and strength, and lessen the side effects of chemotherapy treatment like fatigue and nausea. Exercise can also help boost self-esteem and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Valerie Beck, Healthy Living coordinator at the West Essex Y, recently distributed to the bags to a new group of LIVESTRONG participants and said they were “thrilled to receive them.” They’ve been able to carry their journals, which they use to track their progress and goals, and jot down notes from their classes, in the bags, she said.

The LIVESTRONG program is currently offered at the following Metropolitan YMCA branches: Sussex County YMCA, Wayne YMCA and West Essex YMCA. For more information, visit


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