Sue Garrels is a longtime Y member, a retired special ED teacher, a mother, a grandmother, and a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with Lymphoma in August of 2018 and after bouts of chemo began remission in December of 2019. She emphasized that she was in no way alone in her process of recovery. When she finished treatment, she went back to the Y and happened to walk by a group exercise class where she saw an old friend who invited her in. After going to the class for a few weeks, Sue realized that many of the women in the class were fellow cancer survivors. Sue says this group of women provided her with “an unbelievable support system” that helped her through her recovery. One class, amid aerobic exercise, Sue was struggling to keep her head wrap on and her friend said “Sue, just take it off.” Sue says she took her head wrap off and felt liberated. It was the first time she had exposed her “very, very short hair.” In this group of women, she found solidarity and compassion that guided her through her recovery.
Along with group classes, Sue has engaged with many other programs at the Y that have enriched her life. Last September, Sue and her husband got involved in LiveStrong program. Here, she built yet another network of people had experienced or were experiencing cancer. She said the people in class were anywhere from remission to stage 4. Sue emphasized the wholistic nature of the LiveStrong program. She said they took Tai chi, aquatic strength, yoga, enhanced fitness and strength training classes. They were also given the opportunity to meet with a nutritionist.
Throughout the interview, Sue raved about the staff at the Y. She explained that, “The Y in Marshalltown is exceptional. The individuals who work there always greet you with a smile, whether it’s the people that check you in or the people that are teaching your classes or if it is the people that are maintaining the equipment. It’s just amazing. The whole staff has a purpose for being there and that is to improve the community’s physical and emotional health.”
Sue emphasized that the community she found at the Y supported her through her own cancer journey and allowed her to reach out to other cancer survivors. In her gentle and brave voice, Sue said
“My cancer turned out to be a blessing. I’ve always reached out to individuals but this experience has given me the opportunity to reach out to even more people.”
Before going our separate ways, Sue said she had one more story to tell:
“In May of 2018, before I knew I had cancer, I stopped at a gift shop after visiting my parent’s grave. While shopping around, I saw a plaque that said ‘Find Joy in the journey.’ I did not yet know what that journey would be, but four months later I found out that my journey was going through cancer and reaching out to others going through the same experience.”