PALS for Life: Strength in Connection

UVAC Program for Breast Cancer Survivors offers evidence-based exercise and community

PALS for Life is moving into its fourth year at UVAC. The FREE program welcomes anyone who has been affected by breast cancer, and follows the University of Pennsylvania PAL (Physical Activity and Lymphedema Study) protocol to provide safe and effective research-based exercises to breast cancer survivors.

PALS participants commit to exercise, start a routine, and form new habits. They learn how to integrate flexibility and strength into a program that progresses slowly and safely. Sessions last three months and usually have three to six participants. After completing PALS Level 1, participants have the option to enroll in the PALS for Life Bridge program for additional small group training.

PALS instructor Erin Buck says the program changes participants – not just physically, but emotionally, too.

“Physically, participants are all stronger and more confident in what their bodies are capable of doing, Buck says. “Mentally, they better understand the importance of exercise, and the role it plays in maintaining our health. Emotionally, they have created a common bond of caring, support, and friendship that will nurture them beyond the boundaries of the program. Together, they are moving forward!”

PALS participant Liz Schellhorn agrees:

“I joined a year ago, feeling lost as my treatment of surgery, chemo, and radiation was coming to a close,” she says. “I was weak, extremely fatigued, and facing 5-10 years of a hormone treatment that can accelerate osteoporosis. I was clueless as to how to get my life back.”

Schelhorn says that PALS taught her how to exercise and get back into shape in a safe and fun environment: “It has fostered friendships with others that have been down this road,” she says. “PALS is amazing for both the mind and the body.”

Buck has experienced heartache, at times, as she’s seen some PALS women struggle with cancer recurrence, or no longer respond to treatments. “It’s scary to watch someone you care about go through this process,” she says.

More often though, she says her role as instructor brings her tremendous joy and laughter.

“I get a sense of pleasure—like when my children are successful. I feel proud in an intense way as PALS women overcome barriers and odds that at times seem impossible.”

Buck says that after seven years of working with the PALS program, she knows it makes a difference to those who participate. “The hard work and constant efforts to ensure funding have always been appreciated by the survivors, and it never ceases to amaze me how everyone connects,” she says. “Together, we create this warmth, and a cohesive team. Each group makes it easy for me to want to do it again, learn more, and just continue to strive to offer the very best programming to my community.”

Elizabeth Kelsey is a writer who specializes in mental health topics.

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