YMCA program helps child cancer survivors

By Laura Geller - bio | email

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) – A new program is helping child cancer survivors fight another battle: life after remission. The YMCA now provides personal trainers, a dietician and a family membership to help these kids regain their strength. The first class graduates Thursday.

The goal of the program is to get kids, who have been through the fight of their lives, back to being kids. The drugs used to kill the cancer, often wreak havoc on the body making even the simplest childhood tasks like running or catching a ball, more like climbing a mountain.

From home video of 13-year-old Ben Millefolie working out with his YMCA trainer Eileen, you'd never know he is a cancer survivor.

In 2007, Ben was the average kid. He was always smiling and had dreams of becoming an archeologist. All that changed the day before his tenth birthday when he was diagnosed with leukemia.

"I do remember being very scared of what's going to happen next, you know, how much of my life is going to be just tossed away with this," he recalled.

Ben spent a lot of time in the hospital receiving what he calls "giant bags of chemotherapy."

"You kind of felt helpless," he explained. "You were so used to being able to move around, doing whatever you want to then you have to just sit there."

He lost his hair and 20lbs. He had trouble walking and was forced into a wheelchair. In April though, the family got some good news; the cancer was in remission. Still, Ben had to endure two more years of chemo. Ben's mom Priscilla hoped their heart wrenching saga was over. She was wrong.

"He couldn't run and play with his friends," she said. "He was done with chemo. He was done with cancer but he didn't have the energy."

Help came from the YMCA's Moving Forward program. He worked with a trainer, who became more like a friend. The plan allows Ben and other survivors to rebuild their self esteem.

"Now I can do these things," he told us. "I can help people out with more things. They'll say 'oh let me do this' and I'll say 'no, I can do this.'"

Now the eighth grader is almost back to pre-cancer shape. His mother never thought she'd get that gift.

"I have my child back," she exclaimed.

And, the YMCA wellness director thinks that progress is inspiring.

"It's no longer about helping someone lose those last five pounds," explained Monica Atnip.  "It's really about seeing the bigger picture in life."

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