Jiu-jitsu as a treatment for cancer – go and win!

What differentiates the fights on the mats from the fights of life? In fact, nothing. Every day, even when we are not wearing the kimono, we do battle, whether it be for a dream or an ideal. However, we cannot always be strong enough – physically or psychologically – to win some battles.

Not due to a lack of preparation, but circumstances that often are beyond our will. To illustrate this situation in the dojo, imagine that you are preparing for a championship, and in the peak of your preparation, you get injured. A serious injury, which will require time and willpower to overcome it patiently and only then, go back and start all over again. In the case of Gabriela Oliveira (29), the fight began even before she got to know the real fighting within the jiu-jitsu world.

Unlike kimono fights, Gabriela’s combat would not take just a few minutes. Her battle started in an unexpected way: in routine exams. In January 2013, during some routine exams, this blue belt from GB Jacarepaguá (Rio de Janeiro) discovered a node in her right armpit. As could not be otherwise, her doctor ordered a biopsy. Some days later, precisely on March 1st, “Gabi’s” birthday – as she is called by her colleagues, the exam result came, “I got the result. The doctor said I had a Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system) and that the treatment was with chemotherapy.” The word “chemotherapy” alone is enough to scare those that will face it. For women, the thought does not change much, but it messes with something that they all value: the hair aesthetics. “I swear that the very only thing I thought at that point was ‘I’m getting bald’. There was not a moment when I thought I was dying or that I could not face it”, said Gabriela.


There were 6 months of treatment. 15 days after the end of the sessions, we already could see Gabi on the mats of GB Jacarepaguá, at her first trial class. Little did she know, but that would be the beginning of a new love relationship between her and the sport. “In 2012, I had practiced muay thai for 6 months. But due to lack of time, I had to stop training. During that time, I met some people who trained jiu-jitsu and it caught my attention. I soon began training in GB and there I’m until now.”

In the beginning, the life on the mats used to be an activity to fill her time. Due to her treatment, Gabi could not be near too many people. The first training sessions she wore a headscarf. “I did not feel very comfortable. My hair was no longer falling out at that time, but it was still very short and that bothered me a little.” During that time, Gabi was under the command of teacher Villem Coelho, who was her great supporter. “On the mats I would feel I was like everyone else. Being there was like an outlet for me.” Soon came the first degree in the white belt, preceded and accompanied by new great friends, “In particular, Renato Beliscão, who has had a serious health problem as well. When it comes to cancer, 90% of your healing process is in your head, and the other 10% in medical treatments. You may be near the end, but if YOU believe, you have everything to turn the tide. Because in the end, everything is up to YOU. It depends on your FAITH,” said Gabi.


So far, you, dear reader, may be thinking that Gabriela’s recovery process was soft. But not everything is perfect. Several times, she thought about giving up and always wondered, “Why do I do jiu-jitsu? This is not for me,” the blue belt remembered. “Every month I promised myself I would quit, but every time, something happened and I never left.” The reason that made her stick with her training came in September 2014, when she started having classes with her current teacher, Eduardo Aguiar. Unsure of how much her body could bear, Gabriela thought seriously about quitting, since, in the beginning, she couldn’t physically keep up with the class’s pace. However, over time, she did improve physically and psychologically and then… came the blue belt! “It’s like watching a movie, you remember everything you did and went through to get there. Only those who faced it know how to describe the feeling. It’s unique!” A new person, a new woman, a new warrior. Today, Gabi trains 3 times a week and also runs another 3 or, as she herself explains, “Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, I run. I mean, Edu makes me run.”


Examples such as this warrior’s serve as inspiration and example for those who are going through something similar. There is no problem that can stop those who wake up every day willing to overcome themselves. Everyone, one day, will feel like they will not be able to achieve their dreams or overcome some problems, but just like Gabriela said, “God does not give a burden that one cannot bear. I repeated that several times, because I was not strong all the time. I cried a lot, every time I thought I was not going to make it. The treatment itself is very hard. At first I did not have any problem, but during the last sessions I would feel very sick. Thanks to God and to my family strength, I turned it around. Keep the Faith, without it you are not going anywhere. As previously said, 90% of the cure is in your head and the other 10% in the treatment, in the people around you and in the activities that you perform. In my case, jiu-jitsu was essential for my mind, body and self-esteem.”