Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women. It’s no wonder so many of us know someone who’s been diagnosed—whether it’s a friend, coworker, neighbor or family member. Each year in the United States, more than 200,000 women get breast cancer and more than 40,000 women die from the disease (CDC).

As a community organization committed to helping people improve their health in spirit, mind and body, the issue of breast cancer is close to our hearts (especially during Breast Cancer Awareness Month) and a daily part of our work. The YMCA of Middle Tennessee’s After Breast Cancer program (ABC) launched in 2000 and now serves seven communities in our region. It offers comprehensive nutrition, exercise and other wellness services free of charge to women who’ve received a breast cancer diagnosis.

But Jen Hartman, a registered dietitian who works closely with women in the program, says it’s far more than that. “We change the lives of the women we work with,” she says. “We instill confidence, eliminate fear, and provide a safe environment for women to regain their physical strength, reduce their risks for recurrence, and inspire them to embrace healthy habits that will become part of their new normal.”

Learn more about ABC and locations offered

ABC program director Nancy Brown, a 17-year breast cancer survivor herself, adds that the program’s emphasis on emotional health brings just as much healing. “ABC provides that emotional safety net as well as the physical rehabilitation,” she says. “It truly is [focused on] mind, body and spirit.” To date, nearly 3,000 women across Middle Tennessee have received that life-changing support through the ABC program.

Tips to reduce your breast cancer risk

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Y is doing its part not only to serve those women who’ve been diagnosed, but also to educate all women on ways to reduce their risk of developing the disease. Brown shares four simple but crucial tips.

1. Know your history. The American Cancer Society recommends that those with a high risk of breast cancer (either due to family history, a genetic mutation or other factors) get a mammogram and MRI every year. Read the full ACS guidelines for women at all levels of risk.

2. Catch it early. “Obviously, early detection is the key to survival,” Brown says. Conducting regular breast self-exams and going for yearly mammograms beginning at age 40 give women a greater chance of finding breast cancer at an early stage.

3. Stay active. “Maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise is one of the biggest things women can do to prevent recurrence and prevent breast cancer in the first place,” Brown says. The Y certainly knows a thing or two about exercise, especially if you’re new to the gym. Search our group fitness class finder and learn more about wellness services that’ll help you get started.

4. Eat a plant-based diet. Research has shown that red meat, although not directly linked to the development of breast cancer, has an association with it. We all know the numerous health benefits veggies bring, so make them prominent in your diet. A burger or steak once in a while is OK.