I was just getting fit when the cancer diagnosis came. Now I am doing better than ever. I live fully and take nothing for granted.
I was 32 years old, married with three children. I had a house, a minivan and job that I hated. I was going through the motions, waiting for life to happen.
My eating was all over the place but I thought I was making healthy food choices. In fact, because I was pre- paring most of my food at home, I believed that my diet was pretty darn good. I was young and healthy. I did everything right—or so I thought.
After the birth of my youngest daughter I was itching to get into shape. I was still holding on to some pregnancy weight that I hid fairly well, but I felt uncomfortable in my own skin so I made a commitment to join a gym.
I took classes, ran and, though I was intimidated by the weight room at first, hit the weights.
Not long after, I was introduced to CrossFit by a friend. After 15 years I’d finally quit smoking. I started learning about nutrition and how it affected my body. Through CrossFit, I fell in love with strength training. It changed everything. I was active, excited and feeling great.
Five months later I found the lump. It was in my breast and would come and go. Doctors told me not to worry, it was a cyst. “Cysts are common. You’re young. Women have ‘lumpy’ breasts. It’s normal!”
Ultrasounds, check-ups and a biopsy all came back negative. But the lump didn’t go away. In fact it was slowly getting bigger. It was only about the size of a small pea, but it was there. In the summer of 2008 I remember think- ing, “I don’t care whether this lump is normal or not, I want it out.” It was a gut feeling.
The day after my surgery, I did 100 squats beside my hospital bed. I can’t begin to explain how empowering that was for me.
That August I went to hospital and had a lumpectomy, a casual procedure: Gym in the morning, hospital in the afternoon. It was finally out and I didn’t have to think about it anymore. Two weeks later, I got the phone call. I had breast cancer. Anyone who has been diagnosed will tell you that time stands still in that moment. I remember every sight and smell. I remember the taste in air. At first, it was panic. I remember thinking this can’t be happening. I’m young, I have three little girls to care for, I’m active, I follow all the rules. Breast cancer doesn’t even run in my family. I’m only 32!
Going through cancer treatment is like having an out-of-body experience.
You go from living a fairly normal life to having to make decisions about your life in what feels like a split second. Was I going to part with my breast? Was I going to put chemicals in body? Would I have radiation? I ended up postponing my mastectomy three times.
I wasn’t afraid of dying. Deep down I knew I was going to be OK. My big- gest fear was whether I would be able to continue my new lifestyle. I couldn’t find anyone in my situation—who was young and fit and trained like I did but who also had cancer—to ask for advice.
The day after my surgery, I did 100 squats beside my hospital bed. I can’t begin to explain how empowering that was for me. I’m not saying that every- one should do that, but if I could get out of bed all bandaged and broken, I knew nothing else could stop me.
I worked out as much as I could through six months of chemotherapy. I was determined to get my full range of motion back. I was determined to prove wrong doctors who told me I wouldn’t be able to lift 5lbs over my ahead again.
It wasn’t just physical strength I got from working out through my treat- ments; it was mental and emotional. Every rep, no matter how light or heavy the bar, or how long or short the work- out, was a mental push. I wasn’t just beating the workout, I was beating cancer.
And I did.
Since my diagnosis, my whole life has changed. I started a blog and docu- mented my workouts throughout my treatment. I was learning how to heal my body, get stronger and develop a tougher mindset. I wanted to change my thought patterns and my limiting beliefs. I wanted a better life. Women in search of the same information started emailing me.
That blog became GordanaJ.com and over the last eight years it’s become an archive for my insatiable thirst to learn about nutrition, fitness and mindset; to tune into and develop the best version of myself. I’ve been able to help hun- dreds of women online and in person create bodies they love and, more importantly, lives they love through my programs and one-on-one mindset and fitness coaching.
It has been a fascinating journey. Cancer opened my eyes to the fact that life is meant to be truly lived, not just acted out. I was forced to learn to put myself first. I’ve learned the power of my thoughts and that building a strong body is key to success in life.
Emotion is created by motion. What you feel right now is related to how you’re using your body. I move every day and it’s not always at the gym. I believe that building a strong body is the foundation for long-term healthy living. I also run, hike, ride, go on adventures, travel and play. It really is about living a life that excites you, finding laughter and joy every day. It’s about being in the present moment.
You might also like: This quick article on how to execute on the goals you set in life.