PALs for Life — Support for the Breast Cancer Survivor During a Global Pandemic

The PALs for Life Program turns nine years strong this coming winter, having helped countless women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer since its inception in 2013. PALs stands for Physical Activity and Lymphedema Study which is a protocol exercise program that is backed by research from the University of Pennsylvania and shown to reduce the risk of Lymphatic Flare-ups in the Breast Cancer Survivor. Given the conditions of a global pandemic, the importance of this program was emphasized. The program didn’t falter, it actually saw an increase in the number of women engaged in this program when it shifted to virtual, and soon a full PALs for Life Class in light of the return to in-person instruction in July of 2021.

The program has offered a life-line at the hands of receiving a cancer diagnosis in a public health crisis. This not only outlined the importance of having support in and around receiving cancer treatment, it highlighted the strength of the women. Katy Driscoll (PALs 21’) recalls being “handed a pamphlet at the beginning of your cancer journey with a chapter on support, none of which was available.” After navigating the thick of the pandemic in treatment alone, Katy had developed swelling along her side and chest with movement, and was soon diagnosed with lymphedema. Her PT suggested the PALs for Life program which could help keep this diagnosis under control, “ I didn’t know that I needed the support of other women going through similar experiences until I had it.” Breast Cancer is not something most people envision doing alone.

Jill Potter is another Survivor where the PALs program’s return to in-person came at the right time, “Before PALS, I knew that I was depressed.” She credits the program for the return of her “spirit and happiness” because the pandemic forced her to go through much of her treatment alone, as with the majority of the women who were able to be a part of the July-September 2021 PALs session. The women have grown a great deal, and the social aspect of the group is a huge piece in the women’s physical journey and accountability.

For those who are unfamiliar, Lymphedema is a condition where lymph fluid in the body can’t drain properly, causing swelling in the extremities. This condition impacts around 30% of Breast Cancer Survivors (Fu & Rosedale, 2009). Erin Buck brought this program to the Upper Valley to address this issue head on. She is an ACSM Cancer Specialist, NASM Certified Trainer and the acting Fitness Director at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center where she has delivered breast cancer survivorship programs for nearly nine years. She not only helps these women become stronger, she empowers survivors to create sustainable solutions for lasting health, happiness, and confidence. Erin works together with community partners to create an interdisciplinary program that educates women on safe exercise, proper nutrition, and specifically on what Lymphedema is.

If you have been directly impacted by breast cancer, you are invited and encouraged to par-take in this grant-funded program. No matter where you are in your journey, there is space in PALs for you. It may be the boost you need at this very moment.

What: Physical Activity and Lymphedema Study (PALs) for Life, a strength training program for Breast Cancer Survivors
Where: Upper Valley Aquatic Center
When: Tuesday’s and Thursdays 10:30am-11:30am
Cost: FREE
More Info: [email protected]

Written by Caroline Borowy, UVAC Personal Trainer
Fu, M. R., & Rosedale, M. (2009). Breast cancer survivors’ experiences of lymphedema-related symptoms. Journal of pain and symptom management, 38(6), 849–859.

Kroenke, Candyce H et al. “Social networks, social support, and survival after breast cancer diagnosis.” Journal of clinical oncology : official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology vol. 24,7 (2006): 1105-11. doi:10.1200/JCO.2005.04.2846

By Carrie Borowy, UVAC Personal Trainer

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