Kanesatake's Brenda Gabriel is getting ready to join hundreds of athletes from around the world in Greece this week for the World Karate Championships.
But for the 48-year-old Gabriel, this is more than just a karate tournament, it's a chance to celebrate after a year-and-a-half battle with the same type of cancer that killed her brother.
“I didn't believe I was going to go that way. I figured I had other things to do... competing in championships and helping my boys grow up,” says Gabriel.
Late bloomer, quick learner
A late bloomer and a quick learner, Gabriel didn't even pick up the sport until she was 38 after getting restless watching her son learn karate.
“I thought it would be more useful for my time to participate in the classes instead of just watching,” said Gabriel.
In May 2012, Gabriel was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, spending seven weeks in an isolation room while receiving chemotherapy.
She endured four rounds of chemotherapy and during her treatment, she was hit with another major blow when her mother passed away from cancer.
“[I was] still in isolation when I found out she was sick and I wasn't able to go see her,” says Gabriel.
Some of Gabriel's friends and family didn't think she’d pull through either, but part of what she loves about karate is that it teaches her mental toughness.
She says she needed every bit of strength during her long road to recovery.
“It took a really long time. When I started in November I'd take a walk with my dogs and I'd be in pain after because my muscles had atrophied and my joints were dry and everything hurt,” says Gabriel.
Cancer free, and ready to compete
Gabriel is now cancer free, but doctors are still keeping a close eye on her condition.
“She likes competition very much, she’s not just here to get in shape,” says Guy Angell, her karate instructor. “I saw her touching bottom. I thought I'd never see her train again.”
Gabriel is competing in two categories in Greece: both the over 35 and over 45 groups.
She's hoping for a top-three finish and she says her mom won't be far from her mind.
“I think she'd be very proud. I think she'd be happy. I think she can see what I'm doing anyways." Gabriel says.