Joni Livermore is more than a three-time cancer survivor; she’s a mother, a grandmother, a teacher, and one of the strongest and sweetest ladies I’ve ever had the chance to get to know. It is through Above + Beyond Cancer that I had the opportunity to hear her story, and it’s one that I want to share.

Joni was first diagnosed with Melanoma in 1992 at the age of 33, when a mole was removed from her leg. It was a scare, but she had surgery, a skin graft, and moved on and away from it. Twenty years later she found a lump in her upper left thigh; the melanoma was back, stage 3b. She had two surgeries this time around and adapted to her life with a new nagging best friend- lymphedema (swelling in an arm or leg caused by a lymphatic system blockage). Then again, she attempted to move on cancer free, but the Melanoma made yet another appearance two years later in 2014. This time, the third time, she went through six weeks of radiation treatment alongside another surgery. The Melanoma is gone, again, but Joni says that her trust is gone.

She began to ask questions. Does retirement make sense? Should she make a bucket list? Should she downsize? Joni knew that this cancer was of an unpredictable manner, so she was looking for something stable that would make her feel more in control of her life. It was through expressing this feeling to a colleague that she found Above + Beyond Cancer.

Joni looked into the organization and found herself in the midst of applying for the Machu Picchu journey to Peru. Once accepted for the trip, she attended an Above and Beyond training class for cancer survivors soon to embark on a trip together, where she met Mary Van Heukelom. Mary is the Program Director for A+BC as well as the Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer for the training class.

“Training with her week after week, I become stronger,” said Joni. “I meet others that are going on the journey and we train together… We work together week after week and something wonderful happens along the way- we become fast friends.”

In the time Joni spent training at the YMCA healthy living center and preparing for her trip to Machu Picchu, she found herself on a journey she hadn’t anticipated. This one didn’t involve a mountain or a long plane ride. It consisted of self-improvement, positive thinking, and surrounding herself with people who knew what she was feeling and allowed her to feel it and then move beyond it. Through the help she received from other Above + Beyond members, she learned to give them help of her own, too. It was a complete mind, body, and spirit journey, and she got to do it with all of the support that had been placed in front of her.

According to Joni, “I had become physically stronger which makes anyone feel better and I had learned a lot about living with cancer from those around me. I was healing my mind and soul. Fear had turned to hope. I was able to help others and not just focus on my own worries. I was in a much better place.”

The Above + Beyond Cancer team sent a total of 31 people on the trip to Peru; 14 of them were caregivers the other 17 were cancer survivors, Joni being one of the 17. Together they climbed the mountain and made use of the training and preparation they had received. Joni had successfully completed the trek to the top of the mountain and she put up prayer flags surrounded by her accomplished teammates who were doing the same.

“It was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience and adventure for me. The people I met on this journey will be forever in my heart. Thank you Above and Beyond Cancer, for embracing me and lifting me above and beyond anything I could imagine for myself.”

Since coming back from the Machu Picchu journey, Joni has been a regular participant in the Above + Beyond Cancer ‘Optimal Living’ program that’s run in cooperation with the YMCA. Every Monday she attends the Mindful Meditation class that is offered and on Thursdays you can find her in the Total Training class. She continues to push herself and keep traction with the progress that she has made with her mind, body, and spirit.

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