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Surviving Cancer through Fitness

Feb 05, 2014 01:05PM

"Believe you can and you're halfway there."

I’ve had the honor to interview two very inspirational women, in two different countries, who both had been diagnosed with cancer. Their stories give us insight on how to overcome, empower yourself and believe in a positive outlook. These women have earned the title of “survivors” and I am privileged to share their journeys with you.

CANADA

A young bride in her 20's is diagnosed with cancer 6 days after her wedding. Ashley's dreams come to a hold, but through sickness, she found her strength. Here is her story.

Ashley Laperrière – January, 2014

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer on July 5, 2013, exactly six days after I got married. I found the lump myself a couple months prior to my official diagnosis by doing a self-breast exam while in the shower. I waited until after the wedding to see my family physician; she then sent me for an ultrasound and a mammogram.

Once at the hospital for my tests, they decided to do a biopsy. At that point I knew that it was not just a cyst like I was hoping it would be."

We don't often hear about younger women being diagnosed with breast cancer. As a woman in her 20s, what was the most difficult thing you’ve had to go through during the entire process?

"For me, two things come to mind. The first being hearing from my oncologist that chemotherapy may cause early and permanent menopause which meant that I would not be able to have my own children. Being a newlywed, that was not something that I wanted to hear.

The second was coming to terms with losing my right breast due to surgery. I was afraid of losing the womanly aspect of myself and was afraid that I would lose my self-esteem."

Haircut after I donated my hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths Canada the day before I started chemotherapy

Q.What was your biggest motivation to stay strong & fight through the process?Cancer 1

A. "My biggest motivation was probably my age as I was diagnosed at 26 years old. I told myself that I was too young to give up and not fight the battle. I had too much to live for and too much to do in life.

Q. What advice would you give to someone fighting cancer right now?

A."No matter how difficult it may be, you need to stay positive."

Q. Did fitness help you during your treatments?

A. I will be completely honest with this answer. Once chemotherapy started, I lost my energy and was always tired so I did not exercise.

Q.I heard from other cancer patients that chemotherapy will cause nausea and vomiting so to eat whatever you wanted, when you wanted. For me, chemotherapy did not make me lose my appetite and my nausea was well controlled by medication but I still napped a lot and ate often. Throughout the process I gained quite a bit of a weight and will now have to work hard to lose the extra pounds. If I could go back in time, I would have been more diligent in watching what I ate and would have worked on my fitness.

Q..What moment during the battle gave you extra hope?

A. I think the best moment that gave me extra hope was hearing my oncologist tell me that after only two or three cycles of chemotherapy that the lump was already noticeably smaller.

Five months after the diagnosis, after chemotherapy and surgery, I received a phone call from my surgeon’s office letting me know that my pathology reports from my surgery came back clear – there was no cancer left, chemotherapy had done its job.

Chemotherapy, cycle 4 of 6Chemo battle 1

Q.Now that you won the battle, what is to come for you this new year?

A."My husband and I as well as another couple will be taking a vacation that I’ve dubbed the “Ashley kicked cancer’s ass” vacation.

I’m also waiting to hear from a second surgeon about a breast reconstruction surgery date.

On a more personal level, my husband and I are planning on purchasing our very first home and planning to start our family, since the permanent menopause mentioned above does not apply to me after all!"

Q.What is your favorite quote?

A.“Believe you can and you’re halfway there”. I came across a tank top with that quote on it a few weeks after my diagnosis. I purchased the tank top and the quote quickly became my motto.

Q.Do you have any last thoughts you’d like to share?

A.During my very first chemotherapy treatment, an older gentleman in the chemo room told me “there’s always someone worse off than you”.

Ringing the bell at the Northeast Cancer Centre to celebrate my last chemotherapy treatment

SurvivorToday, Ashley stands as a survivor, an inspiration and a beautiful wife. “With determination and motivation we can do anything”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

USA

An active and healthy woman who is affected by cancer explains that things happen for a reason and we must not give up. To be strong, we must be stronger than our obstacles. Her passion has definitely helped her become an inspiration for many.

Andrea Austria – January, 2014

Andrea Austria

“It was a random night in August of 2012, I was laying on my couch and realized I hadn’t done a self-breast exam in about 3 months, so while I had nothing pressing to do, I decided to go and do one.  I had benign cysts over the years that were followed by my doctor, but as I was feeling around, I felt a new lump.  This lump was about the size, shape, and feel of an almond.  I was a bit alarmed by it, but I thought to myself, “This has to be another cyst.  No way could it be breast cancer.  Especially since no one has it in my family.” After countless MRIs, CAT, PET scans, biopsies, after biopsies, they diagnosed me October 24, 2012 with breast cancer with mucinous carcinoma.”

Q.What happened after you were diagnosed with this cancer?

A.“December 18, 2012, I went into the biggest surgery of my life and had a double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery.  After that surgery they staged me at stage 2, estrogen and progesterone receptor positive.  January 7, 2013 was the beginning of one of the hardest fights I’ve ever had to fight.  I started chemo which was going to be 6 treatments every three weeks.”

Q.Were the treatments successful?

A.“I officially became cancer free April 26, 2013 and won my battle upon completion of my last surgery on July 22, 2013.  A total of 9 months and I am now taking Tamoxifen, an estrogen blocker pill, for the next 5 years of my life.”

Q.What was the most difficult thing for you during the entire process?

A.“Most people would say the physical side effects of cancer are the hardest things to go through.  I lost my breasts, my hair (headAndrea gym and body), and taste.  But the hardest things weren’t those.  I wore my bald head proudly and showed off my chemo port anytime I could.  It was accepting that I was sick and not superwoman.  There were days that I wanted to go out and go for a run or work out, but I just didn’t have the energy to do so. Not being able to spend time with my family because my immune system was dangerously low, and missing my family reunion in the Philippines.  Those were the hard times to accept, but I knew that the fight would be over soon. Q. What’s the best piece of advice you could give to someone fighting cancer right now?

A. “Don’t let it beat you!  Don’t let this disease bring you down.  Things happen for a reason.  Although, I can’t pin point the reason WHY this happened to me when it did, but I can say that it’s brought so many blessings in my life and the people around me.  While going through cancer, allow yourself to be sick and taken cared of!  People WANT to help. You need those days when you can rest.  You’ll have days when you can push through like a champ too!”

Q.What was your biggest motivation to stay strong & fight this battle?

A.“God and my family.  It was hard on my family to see me so sick.  They thought I was so fragile.  I wanted to be strong so they can stay strong.  I needed them to stay strong.  I didn’t want them to pity me because I had this disease.  I know there has to be a reason why I had cancer, whether it was to change my life or someone else’s.  I want to be someone’s inspiration and motivation and show the good in life.  I never wanted to be a victim.”

Q. What was the best moment that gave you hope?Andrea chemo

A. “Finding women on Instagram who are going through the same battle.  Some had situations worse than mine, but one that gave me hope was a woman diagnosed at 24 posted after cancer that she was pregnant.  This made me happy beyond belief because one day I want to have my own family hoping that breast cancer did not take that away from me.”

Q. Did fitness help your quality of life?

A.“I’ve always been pretty active growing up.  I played basketball, soccer, and ran track.  But, fitness and health has always been a big part of my life, and now even more so.  Eating a balanced diet and having a healthy relationship with food and body image has made me more confident than I had ever been, and cancer has added to that confidence as well.  Fitness is something that you constantly work for.  It shows dedication, discipline, and self-respect.  You can’t buy it, steal or borrow it.  It shows work ethic and passion.  That’s what describes what fitness means to me.”

Q. What is your favorite quote?

A. “When God pushes you the edge of difficulty, trust Him fully because two things can happen, either he’ll catch you when you fall or he will teach you how to fly.” And baby, I’m flying!

Q. You won the battle! What is to come for you this new year?

A. “Before I got diagnosed, I wanted to step on stage as an NPC bikini competitor.  So, now that I’m healthy again, I am working to achieve that goal.  I want to be an inspiration to women that with determination and motivation we can do anything!

Also, this year I want to get my foundation off the ground.  This journey wasn’t easy, but I had great friends and family to help keep a smile on my face.  I want to give back to those women going through similar situations.  So I want to start small and start a foundation that will send “goodie” bags to young women under 35 going through cancer.  It was difficult going through this as a young woman, but more and more women my age are going through this now.  There isn’t big community here for support for women my age and I want to provide to others that support and know they’re not alone.  These goody bags will provide small things that people tend to forget because they have bigger issues to deal with.  For example, thank you cards, a journal, chap stick, lotion, etc.  Just the simple things in life can go a long way!”

Q. Do you have any thoughts or advice you’d like to give to the readers?Andrea fight cancer

A. “Through all of this, the changes in my body that I thought defined beauty, like hair, skin, weight…all I had left was me in my own skin.  Who I really was is what you saw, not what I looked like.  So my thought is be happy with who you are and be comfortable in your own skin.  I had many crazy stares when I would walk around bald or even work out bald.  I embraced my baldness, it made me unique.  People started to see features I never appreciated about myself like my eyes, smile, and even the shape of my head!  I got a lot of compliments that I had a nicely shaped head.  So what I’m trying to say is that cancer doesn’t define who you are, you are not cancer, but in the last 9 months of looking like an alien, I have never felt so beautiful and confident in my life.  It’s crazy to say, but I am happy that cancer took all of those things away from me, or else I wouldn’t have appreciated the important things in life.  To those fighting the fight, be proud that you are fighting you are one strong woman!”

Véronique Perron is the founder of ForceMajeureFitness.com, she’s a Personal Trainer & Nutritionist, Fitness Model and Published Health & Fitness Writer seeking to educate and help others achieve their best fitness potential.

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