I Refused To Let Cancer Take Away My Strength

Gordana was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30's. This is the story of how working out and eating right throughout treatment got her through her battle.

My cancer story starts when I was 32 years old. Life was pretty typical. I was married, I had three amazing little girls, a job, a house, and a minivan. And I had recently started doing these crazy garage workouts called CrossFit. I had lost the weight I had been hanging onto and felt better and healthier than I ever had.

I also had this lump in my breast that would periodically come and go. My doctors all told me not to worry. They said, "You're young!" and told me to continue getting ultrasounds and to not stress over it. However, that lump wouldn't go away. In fact, I could feel it more often and at times, I could even see it. It was only the size of a small pea but it was there. Six months after a negative biopsy, I remember thinking, "I don't care what anyone says, I want it out!" It was a nagging feeling in my gut. Fortunately, I trusted my gut.

Two weeks after my lumpectomy, I got the phone call: cancer...

I soon learned I would need a mastectomy, then chemo, and then more surgery. Out of fear, I postponed my mastectomy three times! Weirdly enough, I wasn't afraid of dying. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to continue my healthy lifestyle. Would I be able to workout after my surgeries? Doctors told me I would't be able to lift five pounds over my head. I was determined to prove them wrong.

On November 5th, 2008, I went to the hospital and they removed my breast. On November 6th, I did 100 squats beside my hospital bed.

This was the point when I wanted to stop being the victim and start writing the story. I focused on silencing the negative chatter that was going on in my head with positive thoughts. When I started to learn about the quality of protein sources making a difference and benefits of eating plants, about reducing stress and getting enough sleep, it was incredibly liberating. And then, the most amazing thing happened...I started to feel better.

I moved. I worked out a lot---throughout my surgeries and chemo, as much as I could and as often as I could. In my mind, I was building a strong body and a strong immune system. Really, it was more than that. It was emotional and mental as well. With every workout, I was beating cancer. I was still not supposed to lift more than five to ten pounds, but when I did, I felt better. I could feel myself getting stronger and it gave me the confidence that I had control over my body.

There were moments when I'd go into chemo sessions - chairs lined with women who had no energy, were weak, and could barely walk – and I'd bounce in, no hair just like them, ready for chemo. One day a woman literally pulled me into the washroom to tell me how amazing I looked and she so badly wanted to know what I was doing. I thought, "Amazing? Lady, we have no eyebrows!"

But this was an Aha! moment for me. It was in this moment that I realized that what I was doing was working and 
that this new strength that I found wasn't just helping me, it was helping and inspiring other people. I started blogging about my workouts and what I was eating. I learned there were other women out there who were "too young to have cancer"... and yet they did. There were others who didn't want to let cancer stop them from being strong. There were others who knew healthy didn’t have to stop with a diagnosis.

I know that every cancer diagnosis is different and that not every patient will be able to be as active as I was, but no matter what, you can do SOMETHING and you are stronger than you think you are. Don't let the cancer take control of you. Your strength is still in there, you may just need to try a little bit harder to pull it out.

What do you do to make yourself feel stronger when you're at your weakest? Share in the comments below!

Photo courtesy of Aneta Ivanova.