The New Canaan YMCA will be introducing a new wellness program this month designed specifically for cancer survivors in the New Canaan community. In order to develop this program, seven of the Y's certified personal trainers underwent training as Cancer Exercise Specialists through the American College of Sports Medicine or the Cancer Exercise Training Institute.

"Recent research has shown that exercise plays a strong role in the cancer recovery process," Bridget Philipp, senior director of wellness and health enhancement at the New Canaan YMCA, said. "Those cancer survivors who exercise regularly are also at a lower risk of relapse, which is what motivated us to become a resource and offer support to these members of our community."

The 12-week program is free to New Canaan YMCA members and will be available to those currently undergoing treatment or who have completed treatment no more than two years ago. The New Canaan YMCA will join several other area Y's in a collaboration with Norwalk Hospital and will start accepting referrals to the program from the Whittingham Cancer Center. The New Canaan YMCA will also be working closely with Stamford Hospital's Bennett Cancer Center to accept referrals as well. Patients from these area hospitals or any medical practice are welcome to join the program with a signed medical clearance and a membership to the New Canaan YMCA.

In addition to making each member's physician aware of their participation at the beginning of the program, the Cancer Exercise Specialists at the Y will continue to keep physicians informed of the member's progress in the program.

The program begins with an individual consultation and assessment with each member and a Cancer Exercise Specialist. Following the initial meeting, a personalized exercise program will be developed specific to each member's needs and current condition. Members can then exercise during weekly group sessions or on their own at any time. Individual coaching will be conducted during the weekly group sessions by a cancer exercise specialist. The program also provides opportunities for members to participate in group classes, such as yoga, pilates, spinning and Tai-Chi.

"In addition to encouraging regular physical activity among these members, one of our goals for this program is that we will help to create relationships and a support network among the cancer survivors in our community," said Diane Dibella, assistant wellness director and one of the certified cancer exercise specialist trainers at the Y.

The Cancer Wellness Program is an addition to the growing variety of therapeutic programs presently available at the New Canaan YMCA. In an effort to serve everyone in the community, regardless of need, the Y currently also offers programs designed specifically for those living with arthritis, Parkinson's disease, and those recovering from heart disease. The Y also has plans to introduce additional therapeutic programs this year.

"As a community resource, it is our goal to ensure that we are constantly evaluating the needs of our community and then reacting to those needs the best we can. From adult wellness to childcare and special needs programming, our community is constantly evolving, and we seek to mirror this change through our programs," Y Executive Director Craig Panzano said. "The addition of the Cancer Wellness program is an exciting step forward in providing a new service within our community."

In order to participate in the Cancer Wellness program, participants must provide a signed medical waiver, a physician's referral, and become a member of the New Canaan YMCA. Y membership financial assistance is available to those who qualify. These forms are available at the New Canaan YMCA front desk and online at www.newcanaanymca.org/specialty_programs.html. Signed forms may be submitted to the New Canaan Y Wellness Programs office. For additional information, contact Diane Dibella at 203-966-4528, ext. 127, or didebella@newcanaanymca.org.

Founded in 1954 by a group of community volunteers, the New Canaan YMCA is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to enrich all people in spirit, mind, and body. As an inclusive community service organization, the YMCA turns away no one for reasons of race, religion, or economic background and last year awarded nearly $340,000 in direct financial assistance. Serving the communities of New Canaan, Stamford, Norwalk and Darien, the YMCA also strives to partner with a variety of outside organizations to further its role as a community service provider.