In the year of my diagnosis, 2001, the Canadian Cancer Society reported that of 65,400 new cases of stomach cancer diagnosed, only 1.6 percent of the cases were female. I was one of that 1.6 percent of females.
My name is Lina, and at the age of 21 my life was turned upside down. After a year of multiple visits to my family doctor complaining of severe heartburn and numerous visits to the emergency room with severe stomach pain, I was finally diagnosed. I was fortunate to be treated by a doctor in the ER who believed that there was something wrong with me and that my symptoms were not normal. My age worked against me at the time because in order to have a GI (gastrointestinal) scope done, I would have to wait months. However, this doctor had the intuition not to wait that long and admitted me for an emergency scope the next day. His decision probably saved my life. My scope confirmed that there was a large tumour on the lining of my stomach wall and the pathology tests confirmed it was cancerous.
After surgery and removal of three-quarters of my stomach, I received the staging of my cancer. My surrounding lymph nodes had tested positive and as such I was staged at a 3B cancer with a five-year survival rate of 20 percent.
I remember lying in my bed post-surgery with tubes coming out of my nose and abdomen, feeling excruciating pain with every breath or movement and thinking how is it that this young, vibrant, university student could have gone from planning a trip to Europe only four weeks ago to having a one in five chance of survival? How did this all happen? How was I going to get through this?
I made a promise to myself that I would fight for my future. I was going to fight to graduate university, get married and be a mom. I was going to fight to be that one in five.
After a very difficult recovery from surgery, loss of 30 percent of my body weight, six months of chemo and 25 days of radiation, I was released from my frequent oncology care to bi-yearly CT scans for the next five years. With every year that I survived, I knew I was one year closer to beating the odds.
Having experienced such pain and weakness throughout my treatments, I vowed to myself that I never wanted to feel that way again and that I would do everything in my power to help stop it. While I could not prevent myself from getting cancer again, I could become the strongest person I could be to fight the battle. I turned to fitness. I joined a gym, I trained, and I became as strong as my body would allow me to become. Now, 16 years later, I can say that fitness saved my life at a time when I was fighting for survival, and fitness continues to bring my life such joy and satisfaction. Aside from the notable physical benefits that fitness provides, the stability it brings to my mental wellbeing is undeniable. If I ever have to fight this battle again, I know I will be able to take it on mentally and physically.
Never let people say you can’t do something or you can’t survive something. I am now married, a successful businesswoman, a fitness professional and a Reebok Canada ambassador.
Fight for your future.