Memories Are Important for Wellness, Too

By Emma Laux | Posted on February 15, 2024

Feb YPN blog post 410

Pictured: Monon Community Center member JoNell Stevenson (right) and Courtney C., Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation group fitness instructor (left).

In spring 2023, between April 17 and May 30, Monon Community Center (MCC) member JoNell Stevenson and her medical team decided to take a different approach in addressing her stage 3C ovarian cancer: No treatment. Instead, make memories.

"Physically and mentally, I needed a break," Stevenson explains. "After six months of treatment, there was minimal shrinkage. It was time to hit pause and support my health in other ways. I'm grateful my doctors understood that making memories are important for wellness, too."

Finding the "gold" lining

On paper, Stevenson embodies everything most people wish to accomplish with their health. She's been an athlete her whole life and an MCC member for more than a decade. When it comes to caring for and listening to her body, there's no one better. But despite her dedication to health and fitness, Stevenson received her ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2018.

"I needed all non-essential organs surgically removed, and endured intensive treatment every three weeks," shares Stevenson. "On days I could bear it I would show up to the MCC to do the best I could at that time. I had no hair then and would wear a hat."

Stevenson's favorite activities at the MCC are group fitness classes. She's a regular in nearly all cycling, aqua and yoga classes. During some of her darkest days, Stevenson continued to show up for herself. It was then that she found her "gold" lining.

"I noticed the Gold Medal Award winner banners in the gym during my cycling class," says Stevenson. "I started to sit on the bike that overlooked the gym so I could see them constantly. It was my motivation. I was determined to fight this battle that was given to me. I, too, would win. I would be a gold medal winner and beat cancer."

For those who know Stevenson, her strength and heart of gold shine even on tough days. Her spirit does not go unnoticed by instructors.

"JoNell is truly inspirational," shares Courtney C., Carmel Clay (Indiana) Parks and Recreation group fitness instructor. "I admire her dedication and hard work when in class. I just love her. She inspires me every time I see her on that bike."

Stong in body — and spirit

Stevenson's consistency with fitness has carried her through her most recent cancer journey.

"My doctors tell me I wouldn't be here if not for having that core background of being an athlete," says Stevenson. "My physical health has helped get me this far. My emotional and social health have and will continue to help me carry on."

An MCC membership not only kept Stevenson moving over the years, but it also gave her something far greater: hope.

"Battling chronic disease makes you think differently," shares Stevenson. "It's made me prioritize my wellness even more. Participating at the MCC, whether it's taking group fitness classes with friends or working out with new acquaintances helps me get through the difficult process of managing life with cancer."

Hope through community

Stevenson's treatment hiatus ended this past spring. She is now back in chemotherapy fighting full force. Some days it's impossible for Stevenson to visit the MCC, but she's always looking forward to the moment she can step back into the facility.

"One of the biggest factors impacting my overall wellness is the love and belonging I receive as an MCC member," shares Stevenson. "When I'm gone for a couple of weeks to undergo treatment, staff and members alike always check in on me when I return. They make me feel seen. With the community I've experienced at the MCC, I know I'm never alone."

It's the memories of strangers who became friends, staff members who empowered her on days when life seemed like too much and ample other meaningful connections, both big and small, that make an MCC membership so significant in Stevenson's journey.

"I feel so privileged," shares Stevenson. "I always go home a happy person because of this place. I would never not be a member. I'm thankful for the strength I've gained, the memories I've made, and most importantly the memories that are to come."

Emma Laux is the marketing and communications manager for Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation.

This blog post was written in partnership with the NRPA Young Professionals Network (YPN). Learn more about the NRPA YPN on NRPA Connect or on the YPN Facebook group.