Cancer camp for kids at Valrico YMCA promotes mental, physical healing

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A fun day in the gym is something any kid can enjoy but the kids who work with certified trainer Bart Guida at the Campo Family YMCA in Valrico share a special bond.  

They're all cancer survivors, or still fighting. The YMCA's new Pediatric Youth Cancer Program helps children improve strength, endurance, flexibility, and hand-eye coordination after experiencing the wear and tear of cancer treatments.

"We assess them in the beginning with some playful activities and the monitor them to make sure they improve," says Guida.

After his leukemia diagnosis, Zeke Palmer received chemo every day for three and a half years.

"It was a long journey," says his mother Alisha. "There was a lot of body aches, so there was a lot of Epsom salt baths, a lot of heating pads."

After participating in the pilot program, she says she has seen improvements in Zeke. "His energy level is definitely up, the body aches, the knee aches, he would always complain about his legs hurting. The fatigue is not nearly as much."

The flexible program and small classes allow Guida to target specific needs for each child if a parent or oncologist says it’s needed.

"Let’s say it’s a balance issue. The other children enjoy focusing on it as well. For example, picking up cotton balls with your toes and putting them in a bucket is a nice way of having a challenge," he says.

However, parents like Moriah Barnhart say the program offers so much more than the physical. Her daughter Dahlia has severe brain damage and has been in thirteen hospitals over the past five years.

"Transitioning her back into a social life was something that was unimaginable. I don't think there has been any other place we've been since she's been home that makes her feel OK just being her," she says.

Parents say there's a bond that can only exist between those who have walked the same journey.

"The stability in coming to a program like this, meeting people you are going to end up being lifelong friends with is important," says Barnhart.

Right now, the program is only available at the Campo Family YMCA in Valrico, but it's expanding.

The YMCA is in the process of identifying new locations.

The first three months are free, after that, the program is open to those with a membership. During those first three months, the whole family is allowed access to the YMCA facility free of charge.

For more information, contact the Campo Family YMCA.