A mother in the best shape of her life was stunned to discover her body had been growing a tumour for up to five years – and has revealed how she beat cancer to become a bodybuilder.
Mother-of-one Annamarya Scaccia, 40, went to the doctor by chance in July 2020 to check on her health as she was working on her fitness regime – and was stunned when they noticed abnormalities in her blood results.
They advised she cut back on the protein powders she was taking and reduce exercising to see if changed the results, but the creatine levels in her kidneys also raised a red flag – and an ultrasound found a five-centimetre mass on her left kidney.
The lump was cancerous and, terrifyingly, had been growing for up to five years without Ms Scaccia suspecting a thing, Jam Press reports.
“I was terrified because I didn’t know if my worst fear would come true – that I wouldn’t be able to watch my son grow up,” Ms Scaccia, who lives in Austin, Texas, told NeedToKnow.online.
Before her diagnosis, the communications director was a kickboxer training for two hours a day, six days a week and was hoping to compete in Muay Thai fights.
She had been focusing heavily on her fitness since 2017 after a long-term relationship ended, and was eating a high protein diet to help her become stronger.
She was fitter than she had ever been before – and had no idea that there was something seriously wrong.
She said: “There wasn’t a sign or, at least, I didn’t recognise any signs.
“The cancer was caught because I had a hyper vigilant doctor who did her due diligence. She didn’t like the way my creatinine and blood urea nitrogen levels looked, so she wanted to investigate why.
“I am so grateful she did.”
The initial concern by the doctor eventually led to her diagnosis on 30 September 2020.
Ms Scaccia saw a urologist within a week, who told her she would need a nephrectomy (removal of part or all of the kidney) and the surgery was scheduled for 26 October 2020.
She didn’t yet know what type of cancer she had, nor what stage it was at, and worried she wouldn’t be around for her seven-year-old son Kelly’s future.
She said: “He was frightened of losing me and clinging to me wherever we went.
“I was scared that the cancer would be advanced I wouldn’t see him grow up.”
The surgery revealed she had stage 1 chromophobe renal cell carcinoma, a slow-growing, rare form of kidney cancer, affecting roughly 5 per cent of cases.
Her doctors believe she had been living with it for up to five years without knowing it.
Ms Scaccia claims doctors had previously dismissed concerns and hadn’t investigated further, leaving her both “surprised and angry” by the diagnosis.
Thankfully, the surgery was successful and Ms Scaccia didn’t need further treatment, leaving her to focus on her fitness journey once again six months after recovery, but this time with a twist – focusing on becoming a bodybuilder.
Ms Scaccia said: “I eased back into working out, starting slowly with walks, then bootcamp classes with bodyweight exercises and resistance bands, and began lifting weights in April 2021.
“Kickboxing was no longer an option for me – at least, not training for competition. I just can’t risk an opponent kicking my right side and damaging my right kidney.
“But I love being strong, and I wanted to get stronger, so I knew lifting weights was the perfect way to do so.
“I competed in my first natural bodybuilding show as a figure athlete in November 2021 after nine months spent training.”
Ms Scaccia would spend up to three hours in the gym, six days a week to get her body on top form.
While she competed in two shows in November 2022, Ms Scaccia is now taking a break from competing.
She said: “I spent the last two years trying to prove something to other people – that my cancer didn’t take me out, that my cancer didn’t take away fitness from me, that I am more than my diagnosis.
“Yet, my body was clearly telling me something that I didn’t want to listen to – that I needed a break, I need to focus on myself and deal with all of those emotions that I have been running away from.
“I’d love to compete again in sometime late 2024, but for now, I am going to put all my energy into myself, into healing, into living life for myself, so I can come back even stronger.”
She is now working as an ambassador for the Kidney Cancer Association and as a certified fitness and nutrition coach, helping other kidney cancer survivors and people with kidney-related concerns who want to get into weightlifting
Ms Scaccia said: “I want to change the narrative. I want to make fitness fit for people like me, who operate in that grey space of nutrition.
“I want to open up the world of natural bodybuilding and make it more inclusive and welcoming of people like me. Our muscle gains may not happen as quickly as other people who can pack in the protein, but we do gain, and we do get strong.”