Cheyann Shaw spent years perfecting her body for bikini competitions, but she’s now in the difficult position of watching the muscles she worked so hard to build waste away as she undergoes treatment for stage 4 ovarian cancer.
The Seattle-based Shaw, 23, was diagnosed in August, and immediately committed herself to getting better.
“When I was first diagnosed, I was scared, but it went away quickly. I knew that I had no choice but to fight. I wasn’t going to let cancer win,” she tells PEOPLE. “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.”
Shaw started chemotherapy right away, and underwent major surgery in October in the hopes of removing the cancer. During the five and a half hour surgery, doctors took out her spleen, appendix, part of her colon and performed a full hysterectomy.
Shaw had already dropped 15 lbs. from her 130 lb. frame, and after 13 days in the hospital following her major surgery, she was down to just 102 lbs.
“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.”
But Shaw pushed herself to leave those negative thoughts behind.
“I realized that I can gain and build that strength back, and even though I lost it all, I still love myself,” she says. “I look different and it’s new to me, but it’s only temporary, just like this battle. This fight is all mental and I knew if I left how my body looks bring me down, then cancer has won.”
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.
“I still have a lot of recovering to do, but I feel stronger and stronger each day,” she says. “I can only lift light weights, but it is better than nothing.”
“My battle with cancer has taught me a lot,” she says. “I love who I am, and I love being able to help others.”
This article originally appeared on People.com.