Building Stronger Kids in New Y Pediatric Cancer Program


Madison “Maddie” Dary, 9, is one of three children enrolled in a new pediatric cancer program at the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA. Maddie was diagnosed with leukemia when she was four years old.


Maddie, who used to take 18 chemo pills a day, has been off treatment for three years but her mother says people don’t understand the aftereffects of childhood cancer. “They get really weak from the steroids and chemo,” says Theresa Dary.


After offering the LiveSTRONG® at the YMCA program to adult cancer survivors for a decade, the Tampa Y is now offering something similar that caters to children before, during and after cancer treatment.


“I treat the kids just like I treat my adults where I see where they are physically, and I make them go to an uncomfortable place,” says Maddie’s LiveSTRONG coach Chris Malette. “I show them they’re stronger than they think they are because mostly it’s in their head.”


Both mom and daughter say they’ve seen changes since joining. “I think she has better endurance and her coordination is better. She’s riding her bike better and faster,” says Theresa. “It’s also helped with her self-esteem. She tends to be shy and is now more social. You make new friends…it helps them know they’re not alone.”


“I’m proud of myself because now I can actually do things,” says Maddie. “I can catch up to my friends and not be a slowpoke.” Maddie even motivates one of her new friends in the program who is still on treatment. “I tell her, ‘it’s ok, you have to get through it. You can always start over tomorrow. It’s something that you have to do.’”


Coach Chris pushes them but makes it fun with constant encouragement. “They do really cool obstacles,” says Theresa. “Maddie really likes it. She’s really competitive. Chris times them to see who’s the fastest.”


Wellness Experience Director Yaimy Marshall says she would like to see the program grow. The only other Y pediatric cancer program is located at the Campo Family YMCA across town.


“We want to service more kids,” Yaimy says. “Everything has been word of mouth. So, if we can get another program started after this one ends that would be amazing.”


With the pediatric cancer program, the Y gives a complimentary membership to family members living in the household of the participant during the length of the program. They can stay and watch, work out for the hour, take a class or chat with other parents.


“It’s nice to incorporate the family because so many times during treatment, and even after treatment, it’s all about the sick child,” says Theresa. “That’s what so nice about this at the Y. It lets everyone just be a family and just be normal.”


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Pictured above: Madison “Maddie” Dary works out with her coach Chris Malette at the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA.

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