Back in 2015, Alison Rieman was at the top of her fitness game. The gym enthusiast from North Royalton in Ohio went to exercise almost every day, ate the right type of food and gained 15 lbs of muscle. Then she found out she had cancer.
On the 6th of October 2015, Alison was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia – an aggressive form of blood cancer that needed to be suppressed with a tough going chemotherapy regime. Speaking to UNILAD, Ali explained how close to death she had been.
During the first round of chemo, she lost six inches of her colon due to a gangrene toxin blowing up in her stomach. “All of my organs started shutting down and I was in excruciating pain,” she said.
She underwent an emergency colostomy surgery during which she almost lost her life. She spent the following six months in the hospital, lost 40 pounds and all the muscle mass she’d gained before the aggressive disease.
I have yet to meet a person who finds it attractive to have your intestine on the outside of your stomach, but, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And have I ever given anyone consent to make me feel badly about my self image? Hell no😂 Do I wish I didn’t have a stoma? Of course. But I’m not going to let society tell me how I should look or feel about it. It saved my life and I am grateful for it. I LOVED the way my body looked and performed before cancer happened, but just because I am in a smaller, less strong body does NOT mean I am any less of a strong individual. It does not change who I am as a person and the impact I have on the people around me. My body does NOT define me. Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me. I can’t wait for the day my doctor gives me the OK to get back in that gym! Although, I will continue to love my body and love myself in the meantime. I’m done living in my past and I can’t predict my future, so I will love myself for the now. Stop hating yourself for everything you aren’t and start loving yourself for everything you already are. Admire someone else’s beauty without questioning your own and appreciate what you already have while working for what you want! You attract what you are, not what you want. If you want great, then be great. #bodypositive #selflove #survivor #advocare #webuildchampions
“When I lived in a cancer center, I was so weak at times, I couldn’t even get out of bed to walk to the bathroom. When I moved back home, something as simple as walking around the house was a struggle. I came out of the hospital being really skinny and bony,” she told UNILAD.
When she came out of hospital, Ali weighed just 103lbs. This is how she looks today.
The photo was posted only a year and 5 months after Ali was diagnosed and in a matter of days gained over 16,000 likes on Instagram.
Of her post-treatment fitness journey, Ali said:
“Before I got sick, I got really into fitness… I did weightlifting as a hobby and just being in the hospital for so long and being stuck in bed and sick for so long and feeling weak, I just wanted to get back on my feet and get stronger. I couldn’t wait for the day I could get back in the gym. I’ve been through so much and I had every excuse to give up, but I pushed on despite the hand I was dealt.”
She has since spent time documenting her treatment, the recovery process and the progress she has made on social media in order to show others what cancer really looks like.
Progress isn’t always pretty. And life isn’t always pretty. You can’t truly change lives if you only show your highlight reel. If all people ever see are your strengths, they’ll probably get discouraged & think, “Oh good for him/her. But I’ll never be able to do that.” But when people see God using you in spite of your weaknesses, it encourages them to think, “Maybe I can do that too.” Our strengths create competition, but our weaknesses are what can be REALLY inspiring. •••• At some point in life you have to make the choice of wanting to IMPRESS people or INFLUENCE people. ••• You can impress people from a distance, but you really have to get close to be able to influence them & have an impact. And when you do that, they’ll be able to see your flaws. But that’s okay.. the most essential quality in leadership is not perfection, but pure, genuine honesty. • Challenge yourself to be vulnerable enough to use what you view as your biggest “flaws” or “weaknesses” to change somebody else’s life. #WhyNotYou
First day of chemo done! I had to cover my face with a pillow so I didn’t have to watch it. And yes I am hugging a teddy bear that @joshypoox bought me! I’m allowed to be scared haha. I’m getting 10 more days of chemo this round and I will be losing my hair and knocking out my immune system. But I’ve already accepted that I can rock the bald head lol. What I really need is prayers to help me fight through these 6-8 months of chemo and donations to help my family afford it. I have an aggressive type of leukemia and it needs to be hit hard, but I have nothing but hope. Someone set up a fundraiser and I put it in my bio: www.gofundme.com/7s63mj48 Any sort of donation would mean the absolute world to me and my family because we have no idea how we’re going to make this work. Thank you all for the love and support!!!! I will beat this with your help!!! 💛👊🏼 #beatleukemia #beatcancer #gofundmeplease #godisgood #hope #faith #love
“When I was first diagnosed I really didn’t know much about cancer. I knew cancer patients were sick and bald, and that’s really all I knew. I really just wanted to share my story so people knew what cancer patients actually went through,” Alison said.
But even when she was done with the treatment, exercising had to wait. Ali had to wait to be cleared as cancer-free before she could start getting stronger.
“I slowly started consuming more food each day and I walked on the treadmill to try to gain endurance. It was a very slow process,” she said.
While she’s avoiding cardio in order to gain weight, Ali is now able to weight lift – and does so almost every day in order to get back to where she was.
When my doctor asks me to show him what workouts I’m doing and I totally tune mom out 😂 pic.twitter.com/gTV7nvw5RR
— Ali☀️ (@AliRieman) March 2, 2017
Ali’s journey has since inspired thousands of people – with nearly 8,000 following her on Instagram. She told UNILAD about the incredible response the photo of her transformation has received.
“I had so much positive feedback. I was sent hundreds of private messages about how much I inspired people I didn’t even know. Knowing that people are inspired by my journey definitely, gives me an extra push to keep going.
I have always looked at other fitness accounts for motivation and inspiration so if I could do that for someone else, by all means, I will do it. It’s a really good feeling knowing your hard work isn’t only helping yourself, but others as well.”
I know I post comparison photos quite often but damn… what a difference 1 year can make. I may have looked super happy & smiley in that photo on the left, but I guarantee you I was absolutely miserable. Not to mention those cupcakes I look excited about, took one bite and puked :-). Apparently chemo & cupcakes aren’t a great mix. This year, everyone was asking how I wanted to spend my bday and honestly, I just wanted to relax & make sure I got a lift in! 💪🏼 OH! I also proudly ate my damn birthday cake!!!🎂Anyways the point is, never ever ever give up. Your current situation is not your permanent destination. You might feel stuck or feel like you’re at the lowest of the lows right now- trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve felt it all. However, you can still come out to be the greatest version of yourself. I got my birthday wish last year when I blew out my candle… I’m alive & thriving. Blessed to enter my 20’s healthy & cancer free. Thank you for all of the birthday wishes & like always, I appreciate the love & support you guys give me in every form. ❤ #cancersurvivor #nicetrycancer #youthought #20
Speaking about a piece of advice she would give to the people who have gone through what she has and are looking to get healthy again, Ali said:
“My advice to them is this: It is going to be a challenge. Even for people who aren’t sick, it is challenging – so don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s going to take time, so be patient with yourself. Some people don’t realise that slow progress is still progress. Just don’t make it slower by quitting. It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger…And for those who are survivors – if you survived cancer treatment, you can survive a workout.”
And perhaps the best piece of advice is the title of a recent article written about her: I had cancer, but cancer never had me.