A Step in the Right Direction

UT Tyler Partners with Organization to Support Area Cancer Patients

UT Tyler graduate student and exercise specialist Nara Asgari assists Paula Shackelford with a specialized exercise routine three times a week in the Herrington Patriot Center. But Shackelford is not a typical patron. She is one of many East Texans who has battled cancer and enrolled in a unique program aimed to improve the lives of cancer patients.

The health and kinesiology department’s newest community offering, FitSteps for Life, is the brainchild program of the Cancer Foundation for Life – a non-for-profit dedicated to enhancing cancer patients’ lives. FitSteps is the pioneer and leader in cancer exercise treatment, advocating individualized and structured exercise treatment specifically for cancer patients with physician referral.

Nationwide research shows regular exercise greatly reduces the risk of death and cancer recurrence in both breast and colon cancer. Additionally, exercise reduces the debilitating fatigue brought on by chemotherapy treatments.

"Within the exercise oncology community, there’s a push for exercise to become a prescribed aspect of patient care,” said Ashley Dalby, FSFL facilitator and UT Tyler center coordinator. “But more research is needed, and our on-campus FitSteps for Life center can provide a readily-accessible patient population for these growing studies.”

Shackelford and her husband each received their diagnosis just four days apart in 2009. They both attended another FitSteps center until his death in 2011. Shackelford, Asgari’s first client, began the program again at UT Tyler – both because of Asgari and the convenient location.

“I absolutely love this program. It is truly a blessing for many of us just knowing in it here,” Shackelford said. “Along with the training, Nara’s attitude and enthusiasm are a real boost for me. She is very professional but fun.”

Clinical exercise specialists work directly with each patient to prescribe appropriate exercises based on their physical capabilities and diagnosis. Regular “prescriptions” include aerobic exercise, resistance training and core strengthening, along with upper and lower body stretching techniques. Metrics monitoring before and during exercise – including oxygen saturation, blood pressure and heart rate recovery – ensures a safe environment for patients.

 "I love working with people like Mrs. Shackelford and helping them feel better,” Asgari said. “Making a positive impact on others’ lives is so rewarding.”

A University teaching and research assistant, Asgari will graduate this December with a master of science in kinesiology. She plans to pursue a doctorate degree and work with people who have mobility issues.

The region’s seventh and newest location, UT Tyler’s FSFL center joins 17 others statewide. For more information, contact Dalby at adalby@uttyler.edu.

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