Growing up in Vancouver, British Columbia, Clea Sackville spent her early days riding horses and playing soccer. She'd always had a good base level of fitness, but once she started working a consistent job, she began falling in love with the gym again. That is, until she started getting tired.
When she noticed lumps on her neck, armpit, and collarbone, Clea sought help. A quick trip to a walk-in clinic on her lunch break unveiled something that would change her life forever: Clea had stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma.
While it didn't happen overnight, chemo eventually took its toll.
"It literally feels like you have the worst hangover of your life," Clea says. "Your brain doesn't work, your body's exhausted, and you don't want to eat, drink, or move. It's easy to get beaten down."
Watching her hard-earned muscle disappear and the extra pounds accumulate, Clea decided she wouldn't sit idly by and let chemo and cancer ravage her body.
This is Clea's story.
How did your fitness journey begin?
When I was younger and in university, I was into drinking and partying. I didn't care much for the gym. That changed a couple of years before my diagnosis. I'd started eating properly and working out regularly, and I loved the feeling it gave me. About 6-8 months before I started my transformation, I began to feel extremely fatigued. I stopped having the energy to work out. I stopped eating properly, and I started losing all the progress I'd made. A few months later, I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma.
How did you find the strength to forge on, despite your diagnosis?
When I was first diagnosed, I took it easy and did some light workouts. After I started chemo in September 2015, I quickly noticed it starting to take over my body. I really started to look and feel sick. The medication caused me to gain a lot of weight, and my hair fell out. I no longer felt like me. I remember asking my doctor if I could work out. She looked at me like I was crazy, but gave me the OK. That was when I said, "Screw it. I am not going to let this disease defeat me. I'll train my way through this." So, I did.
How did you start to make changes?
The main thing was picking a workout routine and starting. I remember taking my first "before" photo and feeling sad at how the disease was taking over my body. It solidified my decision to push forward.
I also enlisted the help of an online coach, Paige Hathaway. She helped keep me accountable and gave me a program. For my nutrition, I leaned on experience and research articles on Bodybuilding.com.
There were days I didn't want to get out of bed, and days I almost couldn't, but I pushed myself. I told myself, "Just get out of bed. Just get dressed. Just walk to the gym, and then just do 10 minutes." Once I got started, it was always easy to finish the workout.
What supplements helped you on your journey?
Since I was going through chemotherapy for the first part of my transformation, I kept it simple. I stuck with BCAAs and whey protein. Protein smoothies (usually consisting of berries, apple juice, spinach, banana, and whey) helped keep my protein intake up when I couldn't stomach food.
What diet plan helped guide you?
I followed a macro-based plan and ate mostly clean foods, but I allowed for some treats, too. It varied from day to day, and there were some days that were total write-offs.
What aspect of your transformation challenged you the most?
I think it was a combination of everything, but mainly the fact that I was fighting a disease and going through a type of treatment that generally eats away at your muscles (and here I was trying to build them). I think the adversity gave me some fire. I wanted to prove wrong all the people who told me cancer was going to make me weak, sick, and unable to do the things I loved.
Where will fitness take you next?
Since my transformation, I have started powerlifting and competed in my first competition this past spring. It's amazing—I went from training mid-treatment and barely being able to squat with 10-pound dumbbells to now squatting 235 pounds. I can't wait to keep increasing my strength and competing.
I plan to do a fitness show sometime this year. I want to try it all! Since the challenge, I have been in remission for almost a year! I couldn't be more excited for the future!
How did Bodybuilding.com help you reach your goals?
A month or two after I began training, I came across the 250K transformation challenge. That ramped up my enthusiasm. I tracked my workouts on BodySpace, connected with the community, and made so many friends through the challenge hashtag on social! They helped keep me motivated.
I still remember the day the Bodybuilding.com team sent me the most amazing care package in the mail. It was full of goodies and Bodybuilding.com swag. I was so excited, and it gave me another push through the challenge. There are so many amazing people at the company and amazing resources on the website. I feel like they have become a new family.
What advice do you have for aspiring transformers?
Just take it one day at a time, plan, and be prepared. If you can take those steps, the rest will fall into place. Don't let a bad day or bad week throw off your journey. Step back, recalculate, and move forward.