Gordana is a single mother of 3 and a breast cancer survivor. She used her passion for fitness to help her get through treatment and recover successfully afterwards.
She continues to excel in every fitness aspect and wants to help others get through a difficult process many women have to go through. Check out her story below and learn why fitness can both mentally and physically help you recover from just about anything.
[ Q ] Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am 33 years old and a single mother of 3 beautiful little girls, including twins via c-section. I have always been pretty active. In my early 20’s I worked out at the local gym; I did the fitness classes, kickboxing and some weight training.
After the twins I got busy and didn’t have the time to focus on being fit, I was too busy being a mom. I worked out when I could, but I didn’t like how I felt or how I looked.
After the birth of my 3rd daughter, 4 years later, I really got motivated. I hit the gym hard! Four to five days a week I was spinning, running, doing the aerobics/weight classes and some weight training on my own. After about year I was back to where I wanted to be weight wise but I still wasn’t happy. I was skinny fat.
I was cardio’d to death; my endurance was great but I had very little lean muscle mass. I was eating very little and training very hard.
I went through a few personal trainers, but no one could get me to where I wanted to be. That’s when I found Crossfit. That’s when my life changed.
Crossfit is a strength and conditioning fitness methodology. Its stated goal is to create “the quintessential athlete, equal parts gymnast, Olympic weightlifter, and sprinter.”
Crossfit is not sport-specific and promotes broad and general overall physical fitness. Its growing popularity has been fuelled by a virtual community Internet model.
[ Q ] Could you go in to a little more detail about getting diagnosed with breast cancer and how you went about treatment?
For many years I was told that women have naturally lumpy breasts, that it’s totally normal and that I shouldn’t worry about that lump that kept popping up once in a while. Young women don’t usually get breast cancer, they said.
In December 2007, that little lump didn’t go away. I even went to the doctor where I was told it was nothing – only a cyst. I had a biopsy and was once again reassured it wasn’t cancerous. The biopsy came back negative. What a relief!
The lump got bigger. That nagging little voice inside my head knew something wasn’t right. I went with my gut and demanded that they remove it. I didn’t care whether or not they thought it was cancerous, I wanted it out.
In August of 2008, I had a lumpectomy. Two weeks later, at the age of 32, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My whole world was turned upside down. Breast cancer doesn’t even run in my family.
I spent the next few months pouring through books and the internet researching cancer, nutrition, treatments, anything and everything that had to do with breast cancer. I was determined to fight and win.
In November of 2008 I had a mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy. A month later I started 6 months of chemo. I was told not to weight train with heavy weights. I was told to take it easy and not to exert myself. I refused to listen, how could I stop now?
Lumpectomy, Mastectomy & Sentinel Lymph Node:
Lumpectomy is a common surgical procedure designed to remove a discrete lump, usually a benign tumor or breast cancer, from an affected man or woman’s breast. As the tissue removed is generally quite limited and the procedure relatively non-invasive.
Mastectomy is the medical term for the surgical removal of one or both breasts, partially or completely. Mastectomy is usually done to treat breast cancer; in some cases, women and some men believed to be at high risk of breast cancer have the operation prophylactically, that is, to prevent cancer rather than treat it.
The sentinel lymph node is the hypothetical first lymph node or group of nodes reached by metastasizing cancer cells from a primary tumor. The spread of some forms of cancer usually follows an orderly progression, spreading first to regional lymph nodes, then the next echelon of lymph nodes, and so on, since the flow of lymph is directional.
[ Q ] What interested you in weight training itself? I wanted to say bodybuilding, but you do Crossfit right?
Initially it was to get the body I wanted. I wanted to look like the girls in the magazines. I didn’t want the skinny fat, I wanted the strong and lean. After years of spinning and running I realized that I needed to weight train.
The funny thing though is that weight training has brought me so much more than the body I wanted. I never imagined it would change my life as it has. Crossfit has taught me patience, perseverance, dedication, and discipline.
It has given me universal strength both physically and mentally. It has helped me get in shape and stay in shape! I have never felt stronger, more confident and healthier than I do now – 5 months post chemo!
[ Q ] Did the training help you in your recovery and your motivation?
I began Crossfit in November 2007, so I was training for about 8 months before I was diagnosed with cancer. During that time I had built up quite a bit of muscle and I was feeling great. My biggest fear after being diagnosed was not being able to train again after my surgery. I didn’t know what to expect and there was no one around to ask.
I searched the internet for anyone who might have been in the same situation and could reassure me that I was going to be able to lift heavy weights again. During my pre-op, I was told not to lift anything heavier than 5 lbs. I refused to believe that. After giving 100%, 100% of the time, I wasn’t going to stop now.
Strength training had become an integral part of my life and I knew if I continued at any pace I would slowly see nothing but positive results. I can say that without a doubt strength training has helped with my recovery physically, mentally and emotionally.
The beauty of Crossfit is that it can be scaled to anyone’s ability. It can be performed by anyone at any age or physical condition. I made it to the gym as often as I could during my treatments. I lost a lot of muscle strength at first and my endurance was low. I am actually very surprised at how quickly it comes back!
My weights were scaled, my intensity varied but I was able to work through all of my workouts. Cancer strips away your confidence, and for many, decreases quality of life. Weight training helped bring back a feeling of control in my life. I felt stronger, more confident. It gave me hope for a healthier future.
[ Q ] How did you get involved in with Crossfit or weight training in general?
Well I started coming to CF on the recommendation of a friend. She told about these crazy workouts with some crazy guy out of his garage! I was at a globo at the time and getting really bored of the machines and classes. I had just gone through my 2nd personal trainer and was very disappointed.
I saw minimal results, had so many questions about nutrition, proper form, what it’s going to take to get me where I want, how long etc, etc. They really couldn’t answer those, especially nutrition.
So I started CF; I wanted to try something new! I liked the fact that the training was a mixture of everything I wanted. I hated treadmills, ellipticals, etc. These workouts were a great combination of weight and cardio and they avoided the machines while still getting a better workout.
The workouts were constantly varied. I loved the fact that I could do a workout one day, and give it everything I had, knowing I wasn’t doing it again for at least a month. This allowed me to really push hard ’cause I knew I didn’t have to do it again on ‘Day 3’. It eliminated the boredom. It made the workouts interesting and fun. Yes fun!
The friendly competition. I never kept track of my workouts. Boring. Re-writing the same thing; slightly different weight every other day. Now I record everything. To see my progress is both motivating and inspiring.
I blog all my workouts as well. It’s great working out with others; they give you the added push, that little extra motivation to go a little harder. You’re very rarely by yourself, but you still have that option if you want it.
You’re training with guys, girls, moms, kids, grandmothers, bodybuilders, high school kids, professionals, and the atmosphere is so friendly. Everyone is on the same page, everyone’s doing the same workout more or less and everyone wants to help you. Try getting that in a globo. Especially for women.
Walking into a weight room can be very intimidating especially if your new and don’t know what you’re doing. And for the first time there was a trainer (Eric) that actually cared about my progress. He knew what he was talking about, nutrition, gains, form, technique and he unequivocally practiced what he preached. I was hooked!
[ Q ] Where do you find motivation in the gym?
There are so many outlets! The sense of community is huge. Everyone in the gym is constantly trying to motivate you through your workouts! It helps you to move harder, faster and better all the time. The whiteboard – writing down personal goals and beating them makes you accountable.
It’s inspiring to see quick results, not only personally but from other people as well. It’s amazing how quickly a consistent fitness program changes your life for the better.
[ Q ] What motivates you in life?
My 3 little girls, first and foremost! Being a good example and role model. I need them to know that the sky’s the limit.
Dedication and the desire to be supportive and encouraging to others. Knowing that I’m growing, learning and sharing my experiences everyday.
[ Q ] How do you keep a positive attitude?
I avoid negativity at all costs! I think of all the good things in my life and everything that I am grateful for. I’m encouraged by motivating others.
[ Q ] How has fitness changed you?
It’s given me strength and confidence. It has taught me patience, dedication and discipline. Most importantly, it has changed the way I look at nutrition.
My fitness goals over the past few years have changed dramatically. Being fit is not about having the picture perfect lean body anymore; it’s about living a healthy lifestyle.
[ Q ] Briefly touch upon what kind of diet you follow.
My meals consist of lean meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, a little starch, and no sugar. I eat 5 meals a day; each meal consists of 30% protein, 40% carbs and 30% fat. I no longer consider this a diet; I would prefer to call it my lifestyle. I eat what I know is healthy for my body.
[ Q ] What kind of training routine do you follow?
Right now I train 5 days on 2 days off. My training at the moment consists of Crossfit workouts, heavy days and interval running.
[ Q ] What advice do you have for someone that has breast cancer and wants to get fit?
* Don’t be afraid to get fit while going through treatments. The best advice I can give is to stay active throughout your treatments. It will help increase your energy levels, your mobility and your sanity.
* Push yourself, you will feel stronger by the day.
* Stay positive. This is so important. Being physically fit inspires confidence in yourself. It inspires hope that there is a future!
* Focus on your nutrition. Now more than ever you have to dial in what goes in your mouth! Being healthy is 80% of what you eat and 20% of what you do in the gym!
[ Q ] How can people contact you?
[ Q ] Any last words? What are your future plans/goals?
Just like before I was diagnosed, fitness has continued to make me stronger physically, mentally and emotionally. I am done with my treatments and I’m a Survivor! But I want to do more than just survive.
I want to help others and have my life mean something. I want to inspire hope and understanding. Crossfit has made such a positive impact on so many lives that I want to share what I know with everyone.
I want to help support others build their fitness and endurance. I am a Level 1 certified Crossfit trainer and also certified in Crossfit gymnastics and nutrition.
I want to help others – especially those affected by breast cancer – realize the importance of nutrition in preventing disease and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, a healthy mind and a healthy body.
I have chosen to live a clean lifestyle and set a higher standard for my family and friends to follow. I want everyone to be aware that fitness should know no boundaries of age, size, or ability, and that it can be performed by anyone at any age or physical condition. Kids too!
As a part of Crossfit Mississauga, we started a Crossfit Kids program this summer. We are so excited to be able to bring to the community a program that will benefit children of all ages and ability levels.
Active children are more likely to remain fit as adults, which makes it even more important to establish healthy habits at a young age.