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A mother-daughter duo have developed a unique bond through their mutual love for bodybuilding.
Juliet Porras and her daughter Elena of Houston, Texas, have been taking weightlifting classes together twice a week for five years, despite Elena, 15, being paralyzed from the waist down.
Porras, 40, a single mother, told Fox News Digital that when Elena was born, she was diagnosed with stage 3 neuroblastoma – a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells, according to the Mayo Clinic. . Twelve hours after her birth, Elena began her first cycle of chemotherapy.
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Elena underwent a total of six rounds of chemo when doctors noticed her body wasn’t recovering as quickly as expected, Porras said. At that time, they decided to remove the tumor directly in a 12-hour surgery.
It was then that Porras learned from a neurosurgeon that Elena would be unable to walk due to a spinal injury.
“He described [her spine] like a tug of war,” Porras said. “And then the injury [as] be a piece of dental floss on the spine.”
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Elena also has what’s called a “chemo brain,” which Porras described as a cognitive impairment. Elena doesn’t understand some things like math concepts, but understands others, like current events, very well.
“She’s extremely, extremely communicative,” Porras said. “She speaks very well. She’s super smart in my opinion.”
“I walked in alone”
Three years after Elena was born, Porras realized she needed to see a psychiatrist.
“I was super depressed,” Porras said. “I think those first three years, I was just in mommy mode, and you just lose the adrenaline.”
Porras said he was prescribed antidepressants and also advised to create a long-term plan.
That’s when she started exercising.
“Running has really helped me,” Porras said.
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In 2017, Porras struggled to lift Elena, who weighed around 70 pounds and was 10 years old at the time.
“I moaned…and she said, ‘Oh, mommy, I’m getting too heavy for you,'” Porras said.
“I learned how much better [strength training] makes me a mother and a human being.”
Porras went to her local Life Time health club and spoke to one of the trainers who recommended taking so-called Alpha classes, which offer Olympic-style lifting and conditioning.
“I was a bit intimidated at first,” said Porras, adding that the trainer, named Crystal, had been training her twice a week for two months on the bar before Porras joined her first class.
Five years later, Elena weighs around 130 pounds.
“She never asks me if she’s too heavy,” Porras said.
‘Strong like you’
Once Porras started taking Alpha classes, she brought along Elena.
“I wanted her to be part of something,” Porras said. “She saw that I was also happy, I had my community that I was building, and she saw all of that. So I wanted her to be a part of it too.”
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Now Elena does weight training twice a week in the gym with her mother.
“She loved it,” Porras said.
“She’s very determined and strong-willed and strong-minded… She takes that approach with everything.”
Together, Porras and Elena grew stronger, both mentally and physically.
About a month ago, Porras was about to help Elena into the car, but he quickly returned to the house to lock the door and set the alarm first.
“I did all of that, then I turned around and she was in the front seat,” Porras said. “I was like, ‘What did you do?’ She was like, ‘I walked in on my own, mum…I’m strong like you.'”
“Stronger Than I’ve Ever Been”
Porras said the mental toughness she has developed has been an added advantage.
“I felt, the more I did [strength training]it made me believe in myself more,” Porras said. “It made me love myself, which I think is a hard thing for a lot of people to do.”
Today, Elena is in a survival clinic undergoing numerous tests to monitor her health. As Elena gets older, she might face more health issues.
“After 20 years is when you start to see the side effects of chemo,” Porras said. “So with Elena getting chemo at birth, we’re going to see a lot of those side effects when she’s 19, 20. And I don’t think that’s talked about enough.”
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“She’s at a high risk of getting additional cancer, blood cancers,” Porras added. “It’s a side effect of chemo, hearing loss, congestive heart failure, all those things. They were screening for it every year.”
Porras said the mental toughness she gained helped her calmly handle Elena’s annual tests.
“Every year I find myself more capable,” Porras said.
“It’s a mental thing,” added Porras, of his workouts. “The physical part is falling into place, but mentally I feel stronger than I’ve ever been.”
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Now Elena’s workouts have helped her increase her own mental toughness.
“[Elena] says it all the time: ‘You can be happy or sad, but I choose to be happy,'” Porras said.