Monica Perez is passionate about fitness. She ran track and field in junior high and high school, started weight training in 1998, and began competing in Figure competitions – a physique-exhibition event – in 2007.
But at the end of 2013, despite her very healthy lifestyle, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL), an aggressive type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), cancer that develops from lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.
She is not your average DLBCL patient. Although it can occur at any age, it is most common in people over 50; in fact, the average age of diagnosis is 60-65. Monica was 35-years-old. DLBCL can also affect children and is slightly more common in men than in women.
It all started with a pain in her chest that came and went, but came back with a vengeance: she felt her body shutting down. In December 2013, she was diagnosed.
“How could this happen to me?” she asked, “ I live a healthy lifestyle! “ Now she knows that it can happen to anyone. “Words cannot express the devastation I felt,” she says.
But she wasted no time in tackling this beast head on, with support from an excellent team of doctors and her family and friends.
Treatment was more grueling than preparing for a competition. She had to endure 6 intensive chemotherapy treatments. Every 3 weeks, she was required to spend 5 days in the hospital with 4 different types of chemotherapy running through her body. She experienced a lot of pain, weight loss, and hair loss. Her taste buds were affected. Her energy level was depleted. This was especially hard for her to accept as a strong, healthy athlete. Her friends were not used to this Monica, who, at times, thought she just couldn’t take anymore.
“This experience showed me I was a much stronger person than I ever imagined. Little did I know that all of my athletic accomplishments and my healthy lifestyle helped prepare me for the biggest challenge of all. And I won!,” she says. In March 2014, she was declared officially cancer free.
And she was back in the gym as soon as her doctor gave her the green light. Since then, she has gained all her weight back. Her hair is growing back. She got her focus back and returned to the competitive stage in 2015.
“This has been quite a journey,” Monica says, “and I am so thankful to be able to tell my story with a victorious ending! Although I no longer have the desire to compete on the fitness stage, I am still maintaining a fit/focused lifestyle, contemplating writing a book, working on the coaching staff at Quicksilver Track Club and considering running my own cancer support group,” she adds.
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