On a Sunday afternoon last September, I was bartending at Linda’s Bar & Grill when a couple walked in. The woman was clad in a Susan G Komen shirt and hat, she and her friend had stopped by to grab some food and watch the Panthers game.

The bar wasn’t too busy so I chatted them up for a while and soon found out that she had just come from the hospital where she had gotten her latest chemotherapy treatment for her breast cancer.  I immediately told her to check out the Get Real & Heel program for breast cancer patients, thinking that she would be an ideal candidate. I described the program to her and thought she could benefit, so she said she would check it out.

Fast forward 11 months: I was at the Get Real & Heel clinic preparing to train some participants when a women came bounding through the door and greeted me with a smile saying, “Aren’t you Daniel from the bar?” I replied that I was, and when she asked if I remembered her, I couldn’t place her, but she soon told me that she was the woman from the bar that day to whom I had recommended the program.

I was stunned (in a positive way).  The difference between when I had seen her at the bar and when I saw her one year later was dramatic.  She immediately began to rave about how much better she was thanks to the program. She was nearing the end of her 18 weeks in the program and had nothing but good things to say about it: how her fitness level had skyrocketed and how she had never felt better. Stories like this are commonplace within the Get Real & Heel program, and they’re one of the reasons I volunteer to train participants at the clinic.

Get Real & Heel was founded in 2006 by Dr. Claudio Battaglini and Dr. Diane Groff, professors in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at UNC. The program was started to serve breast cancer patients in North Carolina. The program provides exercise and recreational therapy to participants with the goal of strengthening the body and mind in the face of breast cancer and cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, which can have debilitating side effects on patients.

As a trainer at the clinic, I often hear from the participants first hand about how much the program has helped, but the proof doesn’t end there. Dr. Battaglini and Dr. Groff have authored several peer reviewed research studies that prove their strategy works as well.

As I mentioned, breast cancer and the side effects of treatments can take a great toll on a person’s physical and mental well-being. The aim of Get Real & Heel is help these women not only cope, but also thrive during this difficult time.

Fatigue, pain, loss of muscle mass, decreased strength, depression and nausea are a few side effects patients must deal with during treatment, all of which lead to a decreased quality of life. The combination of exercise and recreation therapy has been shown to reduce the impact of these ill effects, thereby increasing quality of life.

If you or someone you know is fighting breast cancer, I cannot recommend this program strongly enough. Breast cancer isn’t something you have to face alone; visit the Get Real & Heel website to find out more.