“LIVESTRONG at the YMCA made me see my power,” says cancer survivor Pam Cucco. “It was a game changer. I immediately made use of the program at the Madison Area YMCA in order to work out—not only to physically rehabilitate but to ‘work out’ all that disappointment, hesitancy and apprehension.” Pam says that the way she sees it, “LIVESTRONG helped me to get my face on—literally!”

Three years ago, the Madison resident was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer that is usually diagnosed in children. The tumor had slid down her nasal passage and settled in her maxillary sinus. By the time her surgeries were completed, cancer had taken away most of her orbital floor, hard palate, left septum and teeth.

“My plastic surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering told me, ‘I can’t make you look like God made you, but I will try my best,’” remembers Pam, who also felt empowered spiritually through the support of her church community at St. Vincent Martyr and pastor, Fr. George.

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Pam’s doctors recreated the left side of her face with titanium mesh. “It was amazing what they did,” says Pam. After successive radiation retreatments, though, Pam’s face was left asymmetrical. “Though my physical scars were minimal, my emotional ones were massive,” says the former elementary school teacher who received hundreds of letters from her students during treatments.

Pam learned about the LIVESTRONG program at the Madison Area YMCA from fellow cancer survivors. With the support of her husband and two adult daughters, she embraced the 12-week, data-driven program, taking all the classes she could—including the integrative therapy offerings such as nutrition, balance, yoga, reiki and relaxation exercises.

Partially through the program, Pam experienced a setback. She developed an infection that put her in the hospital and forced her to leave the program before completing it. While she was recovering, the Madison Area YMCA’s Sr. Director of Healthy Living Joe Gonsalves, who facilitates the LIVESTRONG program, called Pam to invite her back—to begin the program again. “Who does that?” says an incredulous Pam. “What community institution actively seeks out one individual and offers them a free pass to an improved life?”

She started the program for the second time and graduated. “There’s a sense of community with LIVESTRONG. Everyone who goes through LIVESTRONG is a warrior and they know what you’re going through,” she says.  

And, Pam pays it forward. Her quarterly check-ups at Memorial Sloan Kettering include visits with cancer patients to share words of hope and encouragement.

“LIVESTRONG gave me structure at a time in my life when there was none. I was able to see myself whole again. It gave me optimism and a sense of purpose,” Pam says, noting that she is indebted to the LIVESTRONG coaches. “They opened their hearts and hands in friendship. And what a boon to find a complimentary and holistic program in my own backyard.”