At 26, by all measures Erica Calix appeared to be a healthy, fit young woman. A college student who also worked as an office clerk, she was a regular at her gym, checking in at least three times a week to lift weights or run on the treadmill. But in 2007, her world was turned upside down when she was stricken with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer that attacks the lymphatic system. Her doctors put her on an aggressive treatment program, including six cycles of chemother­apy. Unfortunately, six months after her treatment ended she relapsed, which meant even stronger therapies, including high-dose chemo, a bone marrow transplant, radiation, and chemically induced menopause to preserve her fertility.

By her 28th birthday, she was pronounced healthy, but in the meantime she’d gained about 30 pounds. “I was in the worst shape of my life,” she recalls. “To me, this is where the real battle began.”

Rebuilding her body
Her struggles sparked an interest in learning more about health, and she returned to school to complete her bachelor’s in health sciences. Around the same time, she met up with a trainer who took an interest in helping her. “I started working out at a gym called New Body Architects, where a lot of competitive bodybuilders train. It completely revitalized me,” Calix says. She started training at the gym several days a week and also began tweaking her diet, eliminating dairy and keeping an eye on sugar, salt, and processed foods.

Gaining strength
The workouts began to pay off, and Calix began to notice more muscle and energy as her weight loss progressed and her fitness improved. Not only that, some of the side effects of her treatments, including low blood sugar and daily aches and pains, began to diminish. She stuck to her dietary changes for a very good reason: “When I don’t eat clean, I start to feel pain or some of the other symptoms again.”

Calix says an upbeat attitude is key when you’re facing any challenge, but it’s especially important for those who are dealing with serious illness. “It can be hard to stay positive when you aren’t feeling well, but there is hope. Setting small goals for yourself—like just trying to get some fresh air when you wake up—can go a long way.”

Today Calix hits the gym almost every day, and last year she started to take part in fitness competitions, placing at the top of her class in several events. And she’s begun detailing her journey as a way to motivate and inspire others, posting frequently on Instagram (@Erica_Calix).

“I never thought I was extraordinary. I just wanted to share my story to help others become motivated and to see the positive in almost any situation. Even when you’re facing a challenge, it’s important to stay optimistic and not lose hope.”

Workout Schedule
Monday: Legs and glutes* 
Tuesday: Plyometrics*
Wednesday: Legs and glutes*
Thursday: Upper body*
Friday: Legs and glutes*
Saturday: Core
Sunday: Outdoor boot camp
*Plus 30 minutes of cardio

Meal Plan
Rolled oats with water and stevia

Egg white omelet with vegetables

Ground turkey breast with peppers; baked sweet potato

Grilled cod; zucchini with sautéed tomato

Cod lettuce wrap; cucumber

Grilled orange roughy; salad

4 egg whites with cinnamon and stevia