Welcome to all of the beautiful women fighting (and beating) breast cancer! Journey to Wellness LLC is the culmination of my imaginings during the past 18 months following my own diagnosis. This website is created so that we can share experiences, insights and information regarding fitness, nutrition and ways to continue to feel and look well throughout our journeys with breast cancer.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Program Design For Cancer Exercise Specialists – An Instructor’s Guide

I am pleased make available to my readers a guide to cancer wellness exercise here.  While the guide is specifically directed to Cancer Exercise Specialists, the information I've included will hopefully be helpful to anyone - especially survivors. - who may be seeking direction regarding cancer wellness exercise.  Wishing all a happy and healthy 2020!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bonnie's Presentation at Adelphi University's 2016 Celebration of Survivorship

On October 25, 2016, I had the honor of being a speaker at Adelphi University’s NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline & Support Program, at its annual Celebration of Survorship.

The following is a slightly edited version of my presentation, which was about my messages of the POWER of fitness, the significance of LISTENING to your body and FOLLOWING your intuition, and the need, as a woman, to take care of YOURSELF.  You can listen to my entire speech here (it starts at approximately the 40th minute).

Here goes:

Thank you for inviting me to tell my story.  First, just a bit of background.  For a long time, I’ve had this eerie premonition that one day I would face a breast cancer diagnosis.  And that was despite having no family history, exercising regularly, and eating right.

According to everything I heard, knew and read, I was at a low risk for breast cancer.  But, as I learned, I am one of the 85% of women diagnosed with breast cancer who are in this so-called “low-risk” category.

Perhaps, some of my nervousness about a potential breast cancer diagnosis can be attributable to my experiences in the early part of my career.  In my 20s and 30s, I worked as a medical malpractice lawyer, and there I got a glimpse of how prevalent breast cancer is, especially on Long Island (where I live).

When I had my first child in 1987, I took a break from practicing law, and during this time I started to develop a passion for fitness, exercise and nutrition.  After a few years as a stay-at-home mom, I went back to work, but I no longer found my legal practice to be rewarding.

For a while, I worked part-time in two fields – in the legal field and in the health and fitness industry.  I got certified as a group-fitness instructor, ‎a personal trainer and a health coach.  Eventually, I decided to work full time as a personal trainer and health coach, as I found that to be more fulfilling.

Fast forward a number of years to April 2012, when I was going for my regular mammogram and sonogram - as I had every year from the age of 40 on.  That year, as I had sometimes done in the past, for some reason I asked my husband to accompany me to the screening – “just in case”.

During my sonogram, I saw that the technician appeared to be concerned about something in a particular area in my right breast that would need to be biopsied.  The biopsy was done the same day, and while I had to wait for the results, I can honestly say that I already knew what the results would be.

And, sure enough, four days later, I received the diagnosis that every woman dreads - "you have breast cancer."

When I got the initial diagnosis, my doctor told me that I had gotten a "good" kind of breast cancer, if that's a possible thing.  The tumor was on the small side, and its characteristics were on the better side of the ledger, . . . with known pathways for treating and defeating cancer!

That being said - one of the things that I had learned from working in the medical malpractice field was always to get a second and maybe even a third opinion before making any important medical decisions.  I did that, and also had an MRI.

All of the doctors suggested that I was a good candidate for a lumpectomy, which would then be followed by radiation.  However, way back in the days when I felt that I would someday get this diagnosis, I had formulated the belief that if I ever got diagnosed with breast cancer I would opt to have a bilateral mastectomy, even though that would mean a more extensive surgery and a longer recovery.

All of my instincts told me that this was the right decision for ME, regardless of other options that might be available.  So, in keeping with my longstanding and firm conviction, I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.  More on this later . . .

While there is never a good time to deal with a breast cancer diagnosis, in my case the timing seemed particularly bad.  My older son was due to graduate from college in Houston, Texas, . . . less than a month later!

Waiting until after his graduation was not an option for me, so I became determined to have my surgery in time to be able to fly to Texas to attend the graduation in Houston.  I REALLY wanted to be there.  The doctors were skeptical about whether I would be well enough to fly, but they didn't completely close the door.

We set off on a frantic search for how to proceed.  I had a lot of family support that was extremely helpful in aggressively contacting and scheduling multiple consultations and, ultimately getting a date for surgery very quickly.‎  The plan was that I would have my surgery in a week or so, and then hopefully be able to fly to Houston.  Exhausting.

Surgery was scheduled and, although in some ways it went as planned, during the operation the doctors determined that cancer had been found in a lymph node.  Now, I was facing the possibility of a more difficult post-surgical course, and the possibility of chemotherapy.

Then, during a post-op visit with my surgeon, I received some startling news.  I was told that the pathology tests performed on the “other” breast – the one where cancer had not been diagnosed during all the pre-op testing – even including an MRI – revealed that, after all, I had cancer on both sides!

In addition, the cancer on my left side was of a different type.  Ultimately, the oncotyping showed that the left-side cancer was more aggressive, and, further, was something known as “HER 2 positive” – a term that was then unfamiliar to me.  It had not been detected with the mammogram, not with the sonogram, and not even with the MRI.

In my particular case, it had turned out to be very fortunate indeed that I had opted for a bilateral mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy.  I’m so glad I listened to my intuition - . . . I would've still had cancer!

But I was determined not to let cancer win.  I healed quickly, and, sure enough, just 17 days after my life-changing surgery, I flew to Houston to attend my son’s graduation.  As it turned out, despite everything I had been through, it truly was a wonderful day.

When I got back, I knew that I would have to begin a regimen of chemotherapy.  After several consultations, I finally found an oncologist in Manhattan who I really trusted, and the chemo part of my Journey began.

My treatment included three months of chemo – and, of course, losing my hair – and a year of Herceptin, the miracle drug that was a game-changer for those with HER 2-positivity.  When my husband couldn't be there during treatment, my son, who was now home from college, sat with me, and we talked for hours and hours over the weeks and months.  Because of those talks, if it's even possible, I actually remember those times fondly.

Throughout my chemo treatment and the remaining reconstructive surgeries, I continued to exercise regularly and pay careful attention to my nutrition to stay in shape.  The literature says that taking care of yourself reduces the risk of getting cancer.  What it DOESN’T always say is that exercise and good nutrition are important tools to help get through treatment better.  Fortunately, the medical community is now becoming more attuned to the power of exercise and nutrition during recovery.

So, while exercise and being fit did not prevent me from getting breast cancer, it DID make me better able to get through my surgery and clearly helped me through my recovery.  All of my doctors also told me that my fitness level improved my prognosis going forward, and that it makes me an unlikely candidate for various challenging side effects.

Ultimately, my winding path does begin to straighten out.  During my recovery, I was determined to stay in shape, despite the toll that my surgery and chemo had taken on my body.  I focused on being positive and thankful for my wonderful doctors and treatment, and for the love and support of my family and friends.

During this time, I further educated myself during this period, and became a certified Cancer Exercise Specialist.  Although I knew how to train my PRE-cancer body, there were now many changes in my physiology that made exercising and getting back into shape very challenging.  I knew if I felt this way that many other women did too, and I committed myself to helping them.

While I was aware that there are many excellent fitness professionals out there, I also knew that, unless someone had experienced breast cancer, that person may have trouble truly understanding the best way to help.  Over the years, clients have often reinforced this, telling me that traditional fitness sessions often did not meet their needs – their trainers and instructors just didn’t understand their own particular limitations and concerns.

So, since my recovery, I decided that I would dedicate myself to "paying it forward".  I immediately participated in a variety of fundraisers relating to breast cancer, and continue to do so to this day.  I also started working privately to help other survivors with restorative exercise, and began teaching classes at a cancer-wellness program offered by one of Long Island's major community centers.

I was actually lucky in some ways - I had terrific education and devoted family support from my husband and three wonderful children, and I really understood what my own physical needs were.  I also had excellent doctors and medical treatment.  But I'm keenly aware that everyone isn't so lucky, and have tried my best to help others whenever I can.

I have also learned some valuable lessons along the way.  Perhaps the most important are to be grateful, and, whenever possible, not to sweat the small stuff.

What really motivates me today is the thought of helping restore women's lives to the lives they previously had, and, if possible, make them even better.  One of the women I am training, recently sent me a thank-you card that said, simply, "Thank you - your exercises have given me back my quality of life."  That heartfelt sentiment, and others like it, have meant so much to me.

And now some final closing messages.

Going all the way back to my early premonition that I might someday have breast cancer . . . - As a fitness professional, I’ve always advised people to “LISTEN to your body."  And, even moreso as a woman, "Follow your intuition."  EDUCATE yourself, and be persistent and thorough in pursuing the best medical treatment that feels right for YOU.

And, finally - as women we are often the caretakers of our families.  It was difficult for me to let go of this role and to take care of MYSELF first.  Today, I try to encourage women to take care of themselves – to put themselves first – at least during recovery – so that they can return to their lives restored and, as virtually all of the courageous cancer survivors I have had the pleasure to know, maybe even STRONGER.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mindful Eating During Breast Cancer Recovery

Receiving a diagnosis of breast may contribute to feelings of loss of control over your body. Although there are many things you may not be able to control during and following diagnosis and treatment, you can take charge of two important factors; what you eat and whether you exercise.

How you feel during your recovery may be influenced by what type of surgery and treatment (chemotherapy and/or radiation) you have, as well as your fitness level prior to diagnosis. Regardless of your particularly path, however, you can regain feelings of wellness by taking charge of your nutritional and exercise needs.

Some of the concerns you may have could include appetite and weight changes due to stress, hormone levels, chemotherapy and hormone therapy, as well as decreased activity levels following surgery and treatment. Healthful and mindful eating especially when coupled with regular exercise, can help both to manage your weight during your treatment period, as well as to feel better during this time.

The following are some suggestions for managing dietary concerns relating to breast cancer and to chemotherapy and other treatments:

1. Eat light meals at regular and frequent (every 3 to 3-½ hours) intervals.

2. Eat unprocessed foods. Avoid foods containing hydrogenated oils, soy protein isolate, sugars and preservatives.

3. Emphasize eating lean proteins (look for organic meats where available, and avoid GMOs), organic fruits and veggies (especially those where the skin/peel is thin), as well as whole grains.

4. Eat healthy fats. Dietary fat in the correct amount is important for the absorption of certain important vitamins (A, D, E and K). Healthy fats include those found in, for example, certain fish, nuts and seeds, avocados and olive oil.

5. Stick to complex (nutrient-rich) carbohydrates. These will be found in your colorful fruits and veggies as well as in whole grains.

6. Look for antioxidant foods. Good sources include red berries of all types, blueberries, pomegranates and beets.

7. Also eat plenty of dark green leafy veggies such as spinach and kale. Consider "green drinks" (blending raw spinach or kale with other fruits and veggies such as carrots, beets, apples berries) for an easy way to insure getting the necessary amount of these "superfoods".

8. Avoid sugar. Sugar provides little nutrition and lots of empty calories.

9. Avoid or dramatically reduce use of sauces and dressings. They are usually of little nutritional value and, while they may add flavor, they also contribute excess calories. Instead, try using fresh herbs and seasonings.

10. Take a daily probiotic (check with your doctor first).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Recent Events and Press Coverage

We had a very successful fundraiser on March 6, 2014 at the Governors Brokerage comedy club in Bellmore, Long Island - "Laugh in the Face of Breast Cancer". We raised over $3,000 for the Strength to Strength Cancer Wellness Program of the Sid Jacobson JCC and the Breast Cancer Initiative Fund of the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Special thanks go to my dear friend, Sal "the Stockbroker" Governale (of The Howard Stern Show), who suggested the fundraiser and then followed through to make it happen.

I also want to share with you a recent newspaper article in the Syosset-Jericho Tribune about my own particular journey and philosophy, entitled, "Fighting Cancer with Exercise". I hope you like it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

It goes without saying that having breast cancer sucks!!! That being said, there just may be another way to look at it.

While receiving a cancer diagnosis brings with it a long list of obvious negatives, positive things really can come from it. Speaking to other cancer survivors, I have come to understand that, even while facing the most difficult time in their lives, people can learn valuable lessons and experience wonderful things. This means different things for different people, but for me, it was a realization that I could bring breast cancer survivors the message about the importance of exercise and healthy eating. Trite as it sounds, this post is my version of “making lemonade out of lemons.”

It wasn't immediately obvious to me that the period of time during which I was undergoing surgery and treatment was a time when I could focus on fitness. However, early on in my treatment process, I met a woman in the waiting room of my oncologist's office who was three years past her own diagnosis and treatment. I was anxious about what lay ahead for me, and she perceptively recognized my anxiety. During our conversation, she said something that I thought odd at the time, but upon reflection, it now makes a lot of sense to me. In many ways it helped to form my own perspective about how to view and handle the many months of treatment in store for me, in a positive way.

The woman in the waiting room with me explained that, when she looked back at the year in which she had undergone surgery and chemo, she was almost wistful. It was not that she missed the fear, pain and accompanying side effects of treatment; rather, she missed all of the time she had to focus on - and indeed take of - herself. She went on to say that, for the first time in her adult life, she had time to devote to herself. She read books and magazines, made dates to see old friends, and treated herself to spa treatments and other little niceties, all without feeling guilty. Although I did not realize it at the time, this is where the beginnings of my own approach were formed.

As women, we are often focused on the others in our lives, and put their well-being before our own. A breast cancer diagnosis switches the focus from jobs, husbands, children, etc., to ourselves. We are forced to prioritize and must put our effort to defeat this disease at the very top of our to-do lists.

After addressing all of my medical needs, I began to think of how I could best utilize the “extra” time I now had in my day. Health and fitness had always been a priority for me, but, as a working mother of three, I found that there certainly were times when it was hard to keep to a schedule that included my own workouts. Healthy eating also sometimes took a back seat to preparing foods that my children and husband preferred. With schedules that included sports practices, music lessons, school activities and the like, meals were often grabbed on the go, and were not as nutritious as they should be.

Keeping the comments of the woman from my oncologist's office in mind, I realized that I could use the time following my diagnosis to restore myself to a level of fitness with which I could be happy. Despite the havoc wreaked upon my body from surgeries, chemo and hormone therapy, I decided that I would make consistent efforts to exercise and focus on eating a clean and nutritious diet (with the occasional exception for animal crackers, for which I had developed an unexpected craving).

As soon as I was given medical clearance after each surgical procedure, I would return to the gym and slowly (beginning by walking at a slow pace on a treadmill 20 to 30 minutes daily) work towards improving my stamina. Using light weights and some yoga for flexibility, I had to alter my former workout routine to accommodate my new body and its limitations. There was some trial and error in my method, but eventually I was able to design a workout that allowed me to progressively increase my endurance, strength and flexibility.

There were certainly times (especially during chemo) during which I was not as energetic and enthused about exercising, but I always knew that, if I continued to push myself, there would be dividends in the end. I focused on what my body could do, not what it couldn't. Being able to set and achieve small goals (e.g., walking five minutes longer, graduating to a spin bike, lifting slightly heavier weights, etc.) reminded me that my body was healing and functioning. I am happy to say that now, approximately 18 months after my diagnosis, I feel exceptionally well and am satisfied with the level of fitness I have achieved. I am certain that I could not have said that, had I not been dedicated to the exercise and nutrition program that I followed throughout the course of my journey.

Along the way, I was lucky to meet some incredible people (both patients and medical professionals) who encouraged me to pursue helping other women with breast cancer to feel well throughout their own journeys. To this end, I have designed my in-home Journey to Wellness exercise studio, where I can help women on a one-on-one basis, and have also been teaching an exercise class for cancer survivors twice a week at a local community center. I continue to look for ways to bring health and wellness to others and hope to inspire people to stay fit and strong, even as they face the challenges of cancer and cancer treatment.

If you keep an open mind about exercise and nutrition as you recover, you may be surprised to find how much you can empower yourself and enhance your feeling of well-being during these difficult times.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


In this, my first post, I want to introduce myself and share some of my personal story. While my own journey was not always smooth, and there were many challenges along the way, I experienced many positives that I hope to share with other women.

Receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer is probably at the top of the list of every woman's worst fears, and it certainly was on mine. The reasons why are both obvious and varied. We wonder, what kind of cancer do I have? Will I undergo a lumpectomy or mastectomy? Do I carry the BRCA gene mutation? Will I need radiation and/or chemotherapy? What if I am HER2-positive? Will I need hormone therapy? What is my prognosis? The list goes on and on.

In April of 2012, I asked all of these questions and more. While I was frightened, I was also determined to be strong and brave as I underwent a double mastectomy, 12 consecutive weeks of chemotherapy, two additional reconstructive surgeries and a year of Herceptin treatments. I was lucky to be surrounded with love and support from family, friends and colleagues, as well as a wonderful team of doctors.

As a personal trainer, I was healthy and fit prior to my diagnosis and I made it my mission to stay that way throughout the course of my surgeries and treatments. While there are many resources today for breast cancer patients, I found that there was a serious lack of available information when it came to appropriate exercise recommendations and nutritional guidance for women undergoing and emerging from surgery and treatment. And, thus, I sought to create my own program to address these needs.

Utilizing some of the knowledge I acquired during my 20 years working in the health and fitness industry, I also sought additional education. I obtained a Cancer Exercise Specialist Certification from the Cancer Exercise Training Institute, and designed a routine that allowed me to improve flexibility, range of motion and strength, all of which had been compromised by surgery and treatment. I also found that my appetite and nutritional needs had changed.  I proceeded to develop a balanced and healthy way to eat, designed around my special circumstances. I would now like to share my experiences, together with the knowledge that I have developed over the course of my journey.

I hope that you join me. Please feel free to contact me if you have anything to share, if you have any suggestions for me, or if there is anything you think that I can help you with, as you continue on your own journey.