Mike Lovell was born and raised in Australia – a country with one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world – so in 2017, when he discovered a suspicious spot on his neck, he immediately went to the doctor.
It was melanoma, and after it was removed, the report showed clear margins. Six months later, a lump appeared on his neck and he learned the skin cancer had moved to his lymph nodes. He began immunotherapy treatment. This did not prove successful in treating the cancer and caused significant muscle pain as a side effect. In 2018, Mike had surgery to remove the lump on his neck and underwent proton radiation treatments. He was once again told his cancer margins were clear.
A full body scan in March showed that his cancer had returned and moved into his liver. Five weeks ago, he learned the cancer is spreading to his other organs and spine and he began chemotherapy.
For 40 years I was a gym guy,” said Mike. “As a caregiver, I found it difficult to get to the gym and my health deteriorated.
A cancer diagnosis also affects family members and friends, and Mike’s diagnosis was not the first one he was dealing with. In 2014, his partner learned she had breast cancer and Mike became her caregiver. “For 40 years I was a gym guy,” said Mike. “As a caregiver, I found it difficult to get to the gym and my health deteriorated.”
His partner went through the Y’s CaRE (Cancer Rehabilitation Exercise) program – a precursor to LIVESTRONG at the YMCA – and found it not only to be beneficial to her physical wellness; she also found a supportive group of women who she remains friends with today.
As Mike worked with physical therapists from the Barshinger Cancer Institute who specialize in supporting cancer patients, his therapist felt he could also benefit from LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, and he started the class in June.
LIVESTRONG has been invaluable to me. Nine months ago I had to use both hands to pick up a coffee cup, now I can lift 15 lbs. with one hand.
Mike sings the praises of the LIVESTRONG program, as well as the LIVESTRONG alumni program in helping sustain health improvements. “Everyone in the class said they needed to increase their stamina. I already had gym skills, but making the commitment to attend the class each week gives me the motivation to move forward. LIVESTRONG has been invaluable to me. Nine months ago I had to use both hands to pick up a coffee cup, now I can lift 15 lbs. with one hand.”
The LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program also incorporates social and emotional wellness components. Through the class, Mike met a yoga instructor who now works with him on an individual basis to improve his mindfulness and ability to manage the stress he faces.
“Cancer can take everything from you,” reflects Mike. Unfortunately, this has been a tough journey for him and his partner. Through this process, they had to close their business and deal with the challenges of not having an income. Her cancer has also returned and they are both at Stage 4 with the disease. However, Mike’s resilient spirit shines through. “I’m not going to get another life, and I’m determined to enjoy the quality of life that I have.”
LIVESTRONG at the YMCA is open to both men and women who are recovering from, or in treatment for, any form of cancer. The program is offered in partnership with Penn Medicine/Lancaster General Health and is free of cost to the participant.