Popular fitness Instagrammer Cheyann Shaw has spent a lot of time perfecting her body for bikini competitions. She used to walk the stage flexing her muscles and showcasing her ripped abs.
But that was before the 23-year-old was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer in August. Since then, she’s undergone chemotherapy and had major surgery in October, where doctors removed her spleen, appendix, parts of her colon and her entire uterus, according to People.
Now, she’s calling attention to the disease by sharing stark and personal images of what the “silent killer” does to a woman’s body.
“When I was first diagnosed, I was scared, but it went away quickly. I knew that I had no choice but to fight,” the Seattle-based fitness enthusiast tells the publication. “I also knew that my husband and family need me and there is no way I am leaving them. So that is when I put my boxing gloves on and got in the ring to knock cancer out.”
“Thankfully, we have caught it in enough time that I am still able to fight and can kick ovarian cancer’s a** and be in remission one day, hopefully soon,” she wrote.
In another set of photos posted two weeks ago, the bikini competitor got real about how the disease has impacted her self-esteem.
“This is the toughest battle I have and will ever face, but I know I can do it,” she wrote. “The hardest part of all this is my body change. I have a hard time looking at myself in the mirror, but I’m learning to love myself again, and I know this is only temporary. Once I get the clear light to workout, I’ll be in the gym banging those weights.”
Since her diagnosis, the fitness enthusiast has dropped from 130 pounds to 102; it’s something that’s been difficult for Shaw to endure.”Cancer has taken so much from me,” she wrote on the photo, which has over 450,000 likes.
“The body I worked so hard for two years to get, the ability to have and carry my own child, my hair, and so much more.”
Now one month after her surgery, Shaw is still undergoing chemotherapy, but her energy is coming back, and she was just cleared to workout again.
Soooo…..I HAVE GOOD NEWS!!! My lymph nodes have not grown nor shrunk, they have stayed the same size! So that's good news! – – I will start on 2 different forms of Chemo in the next couple weeks😬😬 I'm excited to get the process going and getting one step closer to being cancer free👌🏻 – – God is truly working. I can see it and feel it. I know God has chosen me for many reasons but the main reason I feel is to show that God is not dead and he is always with us. My faith has already given me so much strength and joy in this crazy journey, but at the end of the day I know I will be fine because God is working and he will heal me💙🙏🏻 – – #fuckcancer #ovariancancer #seattleseahawks #bestself #selflove #npc #npcbikini #ifbb #npccompetitor #bikini #bikinicompetitor #bikinifitness #bikiniathlete #fitlife #fitspo #fitlife #follow #inspiration #happiness #womensfitness #womenshealth #motivation #squat #squatspo #country #countrymusic #countrygirl #smile #godisnotdead
More than anything, Shaw wants people to know that ovarian cancer can strip women of the body they once knew.
“It was tough to see all my muscle and hard work disappear. It is still tough for me to see my old pictures when I was fit and had a ton of muscle—it is a struggle for me,” Shaw says. “I know looks aren’t everything, but when you spend years working and building your body to the best it can be, it’s hard to see it all just vanish.”
Ginger Hultin, a certified specialist in oncology nutrition, tells SELF that weight fluctuations can often happen when someone is fighting cancer. Some patients experience unintended weight loss, while others can actually experience unintended weight gain. As for weight loss, Hultin cites a number of potential causes, including a taxing healing process after surgery, digestion issues, and more.
“People can lose lean body mass, and there can be a lot of muscle mass loss,” Hultin says. “And people also are sometimes doing less physical activity because they’re feeling tired.”
Loss of appetite is also a common side effect of chemotherapy, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Also observe any unexplained weight loss. Women are usually happy when they shed a few pounds, but it’s not always a good sign,” the website warns about early warning signs of ovarian cancer.
One of the biggest risk factors for ovarian cancer is age. “About 50 per cent of ovarian cancers are diagnosed in women over 60,” according to Healthy and Natural World. “That of course doesn’t mean that the disease doesn’t occur in younger women too [it’s just rare].”
An estimated 2,800 Canadian women will be diagnosed with the disease in 2016 and some 1,750 will die from it, according to Canadian Cancer Society. The five-year net survival rate is about 44 per cent.
Despite the odds, and though her cancer has spread to her colon, Shaw remains optimistic.
“I will never stop fighting. I will never lose my faith. I will never let cancer win.”
For more information on ovarian cancer, visit the Canadian Cancer Society.