Surrounded by friends and family, Center for Health & Fitness (CHF) member Laura Ruiz celebrated her 45th birthday on March 6, 2014. She remembers being thankful that day for her health, happiness and career – and recalls being blissfully unaware of the dramatic twist her life would take the next morning.
Laura was at work on March 7 when she got the call from her doctor. The words “Stage 3 Breast Cancer” hit like a hammer – thrusting Laura into a fight for her life against the same cancer that took her mother just three months earlier.
“It changes your life immediately,” says Laura, now 46. “There’s so much to process and to work through that you become depressed, angry and sometimes enter stages of denial. But the beautiful thing is that you have a choice. You can either get busy living and fight, or get busy dying. I don’t do pity parties, so I decided to fight back by being happy and by living.”
Laura’s cancer was considered triple negative, meaning it was aggressively growing and progressing. Initially, she wasn’t considered a candidate for surgery and had to endure several rounds of chemotherapy – which left her body bloated and weak.
“Chemotherapy is one of the most challenging aspects of cancer,” says Laura. “It made my body feel like a wet noodle. It messes with your emotions, appetite and moods – it is torture to endure. But you have to try and stay positive and find the joy in day-to-day life. That’s the key.”
After many rounds of chemo, Laura got the news that her cancer had shrunk enough for surgeons to operate – and the tumor was successfully removed in October 2014. However, Laura would still need to undergo 38 additional rounds of radiation during the next two months.
In January 2015, Laura was officially declared cancer-free and given the green light to start exercising and rebuilding her strength. Her doctor specifically recommended that she join CHF because of its experience with cancer patients. Laura agreed and began personal training sessions with Aidan Acuff.
“I was nervous to start exercising because my body was so weak and I’d gained so much weight, but Aidan and Derick really made me feel comfortable from day one,” says Laura. “Aidan is such a great motivator and he really helped me get into a routine. He also changed my outlook on nutrition.”
Recently, Laura made the switch from one-on-one personal training sessions to Aidan’s Small Group Training class. The program pairs 5-6 people together for group personal training sessions two-three times per week in a group exercise setting. Participants have access to special equipment and workout together under the watchful eye of their trainer.
“I’m not someone who likes big groups of people, especially when I exercise, so Small Group Training was a perfect fit,” says Laura. “We all support each other in class. We push each other and, most of all, we have become friends. It’s been great for me.”
Since joining CHF in February, Laura has lost 40 pounds and gained back muscle tone, stamina and a ton of confidence. She considers her post-cancer-self to be more grounded and humble, and she has even reconnected with her faith by returning to church. Simply put, Laura believes that beating cancer not only made her stronger, it also made her a better person.
“My advice for anyone facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge is: don’t ever give up,” says Laura. “Do what makes you happy and never lose your will to live – because life is beautiful.”