This is a story about a young girl named Tori Berezowski. Her story demonstrates passion, dedication and strength to do everything it took to continue the sport she truly loved.
Tori was a National Artistic gymnast and a world class power tumbler. She trained a massive total of 36 hours per week. Her life was dedicated to competitive sport as well as her family. On top of gymnastics, she enjoyed traveling and spending time with her family.
Nonetheless here are some training videos and photos from the past:
When she wasn’t in the gym, she devoted her time to helping others. She went on a mission trip to an orphanage on the other side of the world. Upon her return from the mission she started feeling like she was getting the flu. Her stomach would hurt and she would have trouble eating. Despite her ceaseless symptoms, all medical results came back fine. She would have days where she felt a little bit better and days where she felt awful. This went on for over 6 months and the doctors could not figure it out. She unquestionably kept on with her training because she refused to miss a day.
The Heart Breaking News
After going through many medical tests, she learned that her dreams were suddenly shattered. The Big C was introduced into her life. Tori was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 17. She had a 14cm mass sitting on top of her lungs. They thankfully noticed it in a last second decision to run a chest x-ray. It was almost a miracle that the nurse sent her for the x-ray because she had no pain or issues related to her chest. To this day, we are still unsure as to why she was sent for that x-ray in the first place. We are grateful that lump was discovered in time. The doctor who diagnosed her commented on how strong she was for still getting up for school and gymnastics everyday no matter how badly she felt before being diagnosed. He said that he could not believe how she was even physically able to get out of bed in her condition. It truly showed her physical and emotional strength as an athlete, her commitment as a gymnast and to the sport itself.
It was time to start treatment. She was very thankful to be part of Sick Kids hospital because they took good care of her. They made sure she got the best treatment plan as well as amazing hospitality. She started out with chemo therapy. It was a long hard process with many ups and downs. There were times when she felt like it was the end of the world and other times when she knew she was strong enough and could make it to the next day even though her body was in so much pain. Following the chemo, she had to have radiation therapy as well. She still has 4 blue tattoos in the shape of a small dot on her chest that shows where the therapy took place.
Here are some photos during treatment:
The Hardest Part
One of the hardest parts for her was losing her hair due to her chemotherapy treatment. Before anyone knew it she only had a few small patches left. Tori thought that it would be best if she cut off the rest that was hanging on by a thread. She was very upset about the hair loss so as her family, we decided came up with a plan to make it a more positive experience. We decided to have a fundraiser. It was called Bald and Beautiful. Every penny that was raised would go back to Sick Kids cancer research. It was both a sad and enlightening day. We were so thankful for those who wanted to support the cause. Little did we know, the word got out. The fundraiser turned out to be so big that our venue could barely house the amount of people that showed up. The Oakville newspaper decided to drop in as well and take some pictures for us. At the beginning of the night, there were 5 people scheduled to shave their heads for the cause and donate their hair if it was long enough. By the end of the night, 15 people came forward to have their heads shaved and $10,000.00 was raised. Our original goal was $5000.00 so this was mind blowing. It was such a blessing to see that so many people were willing to donate to help other children in need. It was sad to see her last bits of hair go but every minute was worth saving another child’s life from this horrible disease.
Tori spoke at other fundraisers as well such as Clarkson High School’s Cancer Drive where they raise money each year for Camp Oochigeas. This is a camp for children with cancer so they can get away from the hospital for a while and have a little fun. Tori went to this camp numerous times and also became an instructor after she grew out of it. It was the time of her life. It was a place where she could be surrounded with children just like her of all ages. She met so many different kids, and it really helped her to not feel alone.
She helped launch the Sears Great Canadian Run that currently takes place every year. All the money raised there goes to cancer research for Sick Kids Hospital. Sears Canada Inc. was the main sponsor for building the new cancer ward at Sick Kids Hospital.
Tori spoke at the Spencer Berezowski Golf Tournament that has also been happening for many years. The money raised there goes to the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation. It is coming on to it’s 12th annual tournament this year.
You can click the pictures below for more information on these programs.
After what felt like a lifetime, the procedures were completed. On March 18th 2011. Tori was diagnosed CANCER FREE! What an amazing day! It was the most wonderful feeling she had ever had. She was so thankful for the doctors and friends who helped to heal her and take care of her during her time of sickness. She still had weekly check-ups to attend for the first year. The number of check-ups started to decrease as the years passed. The following year she had bi-weekly check-ups. The next year was monthly appointments and the fourth year was every 6 months. By 5 years cancer free she was allowed to decrease to only once per year. She will do that for a total of 10 years. We knew it would be a lot of appointments to attend but better safe than sorry.
Back To Training
Almost immediately after realizing she was cancer free, she was back in the gym training. There were many good training days, as well as some sad ones because she did not realize how difficult it would be to get back into shape. She was so determined to be the gymnast she was before. After months of training, she realized that she could not be the same as before. Tori noticed that she had different strengths and weaknesses than she used to. She decided to use that as an opportunity to learn about herself all over again. She focused on being the best she could be with what she had and pushed herself beyond what she thought was possible even more than she did as a national gymnast. It suddenly didn’t matter how much struggling there was because her goals were more important to her. It didn’t even matter that her muscles hurt so badly that she wanted to crumple up in a ball and cry. She had a goal and was determined to do everything that was needed to accomplish it.
While getting herself back into shape Tori tore her ACL and Meniscus while doing a double twist on the floor. I’ll save you the horror and I will refrain from posting that video but I have to say it was a good try. After the injury, she underwent immediate surgery on her knee. It was not even 48 hours after the procedure and she was already at The Sports Clinic working with her Physio Therapist and Osteopath to get moving with the rehab. All she could think of was getting back into the gym to train. She never gave up. Once again, Tori came back to the sport she loved after having her dreams taken from her much too early and showed everyone, including herself how strong she was. In my opinion, I thought getting through cancer treatment was enough to show her strength and perseverance but she didn’t. She was not ready to show weakness in any aspect of her life.
Here are some videos of her progress in the last 5 years after the cancer, as well as the ACL reconstructive surgery:
Post Cancer Memories
Saucy’s World was very supportive and made a gymsuit in Tori’s name with a purple design that represented Hodkins Lymphoma. Part of the proceeds went back to cancer research. Check out the link below to see more of what Saucy’s world has to offer. http://www.saucysworld.com/
Tori was granted a wish by Children’s Wish Foundation and she wished that she could take her family on a cruise. It was a nice vacation and getaway from her regular routine of check-ups and appointments.
Tori had a second tattoo put on her other foot to represent a truth that helped her get through the following years after being cancer free.
Tori had her first tattoo put on her foot to represent a phrase that meant the world to her and kept her positive after being diagnosed.
Tori participated in a few gymnastic competitions post cancer treatment and ACL reconstructive surgery. It was her reward for working so hard to get back into the sport she could not let go of.
Tori posted sticky notes just like this one all over her bedroom to remind her of the positive things there were to think about.
6 Years Later:
It gives me great pleasure to announce that Tori is still cancer free 6 years later. Her family and friends are proud of her for being so strong but also for never underestimating herself. Tori is remarkably thankful to be able to spend as much time as she wants with everyone she loves. Of course the holidays never get old at the Berezowski house.
Even today she is rocking it out in the gym once again. She has officially retired now from gymnastics but still goes in periodically to have a little fun. She would never give up the opportunity to show off some tumbling skills with her friends even if that means that it has to be done in a hotel hallway.
Here are some videos taken within the last year:
Try and find the positive in every situation no matter how scary it seems. Take every opportunity that you can to better yourself and don’t take anything for granted. Those small things that bother us each day are so much less important than all of the good that you have to bring to yourself and others.
“You are your own most powerful motivator and critic. Which will you be?”