Turning Lemons into Lemonade

Submitted by: Andrea Leonard

ME's Success Story

At the age of eighteen Andrea Leonard was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent a complete thyroidectomy. Following her surgery, Andrea was challenged with a new, sluggish metabolism, and weight gain. It was through her own personal struggles to regain her previous energy level and physique, that Andrea decided to become a personal trainer. She wanted to be able to help others, like herself, who struggled with the same issues of weight gain and poor self-esteem. Andrea graduated from the University of MD in 1990 with a degree in Criminal Justice, but quickly realized that she was in the wrong profession. She avidly pursued a career as a personal trainer and became certified by The National Sports Professionals Association, The American Council on Exercise, The National Academy of Sports Medicine, and The American College of Sports Medicine. Additionally, Andrea was certified by the Cooper Institute as a Special Populations Expert.

Andrea began training in 1992 and worked at the National Capital YMCA in Washington, D.C. She quickly worked her way up to Director of Personal Training and ran the department for several years. While working at the YMCA, Andrea started Leading Edge Fitness and later, The Cancer Exercise Training Institute. While training the "movers and shakers" on Capital Hill, Andrea's mom was diagnosed, for the second time, with breast cancer. She watched her mother struggle through the trauma of multiple surgeries, reconstruction, a frozen shoulder, and addiction to narcotics in order to cope with the pain associated with her surgeries. Inspired by her mother, Andrea, along with a medical advisory board from Washington D.C.'s premier medical centers, set out to write "Essential Exercises for Breast Cancer Survivors." The goal was to help the millions of men and women, like her mother, to gain back their strength, range of motion, and self-esteem (among other things), following breast cancer surgery and treatment. The book was published by Harvard Common Press in 2000. Shortly thereafter, Andrea founded The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Foundation, a 501c3 public charity—to better the lives of cancer survivors and their families.

Realizing that she is limited to helping a certain number of clients per week, Andrea developed an Advanced Qualification for health and fitness professionals. Through this program she is able to pass on her wealth of knowledge and enable other fitness professionals to work safely and confidently with cancer patients. Through her two-day Advanced Qualification Workshop, participants learn about twenty-five types of cancer, their surgeries, treatments, reconstructive procedures, contraindications, and side-effects. Following a comprehensive examination, attendees are awarded the "Cancer Exercise Specialist Advanced Qualification," Andrea teaches workshops and lectures Nationwide and is a continuing education provider for The American Council on Exercise and The National Academy of Sports Medicine.