Cambridge breast cancer survivor empowered by yoga

By Joanna Kaselis
Cambridge —

Photo by Joanna Kaselis

Breast cancer survivor Bonnie Randall, 63, of Cambridge, has dealt with a lot of highly stressful, emotional situations her lifetime. Four years before her own diagnosis, Randall’s daughter fought a difficult battle with leukemia. Eight years after her diagnosis, her son passed away.

She admits she could be on the bottle or a raving maniac, but instead, she feels very lucky, in spite of her losses because she has been strong enough to learn from them.

“I am who I am right now because of those different aspects of myself,” she said.

After experiencing her daughter’s illness, Randall wanted to do something to help relieve the stress of other parents with sick children.

She graduated from the Jon Kabat-Zinn mindfulness stress reduction internship program in Worcester and became a volunteer at Children’s Hospital practicing stress reduction with parents of children with long term or life-threatening illnesses once a week.

Randall went on to become certified as a professional Kripalu yoga instructor in December 1999 and began teaching in January 2000. “That February, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, almost four years to the day of my daughter’s diagnosis,” she said.

Throughout her experiences, Randall said she was able to find inner peace by teaching yoga, doing her own practice at home, going to Kripalo and doing intensive, deeper yoga practices.

“Looking back, sometime’s it’s hard to believe I’ve had to deal with what I’ve had to deal with,” she said.

Through her practice using deeper techniques, she has been able to release a lot of grief and a lot of sadness. “I’ve released so much of those emotions I’ve been holding onto for so long,” said Randall.

Yoga has been her best friend and is the one thing in her life that has never disappointed her. “If you look at a baby when a baby’s born, you see the openness and love, you see how flexible they are. They look at you, they smile, they’re in the present moment…yoga brings you back to that. That’s our essence. That’s who we are,” said Randall.

She thinks yoga has empowered her in a good solid sense. She knows deep down inside there is a place that’s always safe no matter what’s happening on the outside.

“It’s tragic people have to suffer the way we do, but the bottom line is, the important place is inside and yoga can get you there over and over again. The more you do it, the deeper you are able to get. It’s profound. It really is. That’s key for me,” said Randall.

She currently teaches six classes per week through the Belmont Adult Education Department and Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge and has continued volunteering at Children’s Hospital for over 10 years.

She also helps take care of her late son’s six-year-old daughter, Jaida whom she says is the love of her life.

Belmont resident Monica Stuart recently started taking one of Randall’s yoga classes. She suffers from a chronic respiratory disease, brochiectasis and has benefited from the deep breathing exercises.

“In the past, I was intimidated by yoga. I’m not flexible and didn’t think I could do it. Bonnie’s approach encourages people to modify poses. She was so accepting, there was no way you could fail,” said Stuart.

Rachel Guardiani, patient and family educator at Children’s Hospital, Boston, organizes the Parent Relaxation Activities program where Randall volunteers. “Without her, our parents would be miserable. They love her so much,” said Guardiani.

Many parents ask for Randall and she doesn’t have any trouble filling her slots up when they know she’s on the schedule. “She has a soft way. As a parent herself, she understands what they’re going through,” she said.

Bonnie Randall, breast cancer survivor, certified yoga instructor

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