Since 2011, 77-year-old Oak Parker, Glen Benoy, has been diagnosed with two different forms of cancer, which after treatment transitioned him into a state of remission twice.
He credits his returning strength and overall physicality to the programming of the West Cook YMCA, and specifically its new evidence-based “Livestrong at the YMCA” program, which debuted in February 2016.
Now, as one of its inaugural “graduates,” Benoy said he and the eight other cancer survivors benefitted from the free 12-week program, which met twice a week for 90 minutes.
In it, he and his buddy Joe, another man who had undergone radiation treatment for prostate cancer, toughed out the traditional exercise methods in an effort to ease back into a fitness routine, while maintaining a healthy weight in a social setting.
“Before cancer, I was never athletic, and I didn’t use to exercise, but since, I have participated in the Y’s programming rather frequently,” he says. “I like to have other people around me who are also suffering or groaning…or smiling or laughing, whatever. The group thing, I can do that.”
Joining the ‘cancer club’
Born on a dairy farm in McHenry County, Benoy says he spent 23 years living and working for companies in Europe — first Greece, then in Germany — on-the-job for his companies worldwide.
In 1998, Benoy returned stateside and settled into Oak Park and retired.
His first diagnosis, prostate cancer, came in 2011, and after a regimen of radiation, he entered a state of remission.
On St. Patrick’s Day 2015, is when Benoy first found a tumor on the index finger of his right hand, and later another one in his armpit. “The original Merkel Cell tumor [an especially aggressive and rare form of skin cancer] was not diagnosed until I had it for eight to10 months,” he said. “The doctors did not think it was cancer, and I ignored it for months at a time.”
Eventually, the diagnosis led him to the research lab at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where a cadre of Merkel Cell Carcinoma specialists and cancer researchers were helping patients manage the disease.
Now he is happy to report that he is in a state of remission, clear of cancer again.
Many months later, Laura Olszewski, director of the living healthy program at West Cook YMCA is taken with how fit her “guinea pig,” as Benoy calls himself, looks and feels.
“Our YMCA Diabetes program, Livestrong at the YMCA and Enhanced Fitness are all evidenced-based programs where people go through testing pre-and post class, and sometimes during the class we want to help people reduce their risk of developing a chronic disease, or with exercise, help them manage one.”
Since then, three days a week starting at 7 a.m. Benoy has been at the Y shaking his booty to a bevy of disco tunes, getting fitter, thanks to instructor Felicity Woodson and her Enhanced Fitness exercise class for seniors with chronic conditions.
“I am slower than I was before, but, I now know that exercise can be fun. It has for sure increased my walking endurance, and people say I look pretty darn healthy. Has it increased my strength? I don’t know, at home, I do not lift that many things, really. Well, maybe a six pack of beer now and then,” he laughs.