When Wilma Waterston developed a cough she thought it was just a harmless infection.
But the 61-year-old also started to get breathless during her fitness classes so she made an appointment with her doctor.
And after being booked in for several tests, she started fearing the worst.
“As the tests went on and it wasn’t an infection you think well there’s only one thing left,” she said.
“But still, to hear it, it’s devastating.”
Wilma first began noticing her symptoms in February 2017. Four months later, she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
But she was given a glimmer of hope when samples taken from a biopsy revealed the cancer was only on her left lung, and that it was curable.
It would be a major operation, and she was warned it would be a slow and painful recovery.
‘Fitness helped me recover’
But she was given some reassuring words of comfort. Years of doing high-intensity gym classes meant her fitness would help her recover from the procedure.
“I’ve always tended to do classes, walking, hill-climbing and ski-ing.
“Every health professional I saw talked about how being fit would make such a difference to my recovery and I have to admit that was certainly the case,” she said.
On August 1 the grandmother-of-five underwent a five-hour operation to remove her lung.
She spent nine days in hospital before she was allowed back to her Inverurie home to recover.
Exercising strengthens lungs and improves their capacity
It was a slow process, and sleeping was difficult because she could only lie down propped up on her back.
But Wilma gradually built up her fitness levels again by heading out for walks as soon as she was able to.
Being fit before the procedure helped because regular exercising had strengthened her lungs and improved their capacity.
“Right from the start they said your level of fitness is very good and that will help massively with your recovery,” she said.
“At the time you don’t think about it but it really was. A couple of weeks after I got home a friend called and I told her I was so fed up I needed to get out. She picked me up and we went for a coffee.
“My GP called when we were out and said he was popping round to see how I was. We got back to the house at the moment he was driving in. He said he thought he was coming to see me in my bed, and here I was out getting a coffee!”
After the surgery, Wilma, who is now 66, underwent chemotherapy sessions which ended in December 2017 and she was back in the gym with her personal trainer Ross Crosbie a few weeks later.
Starting off with basic exercises such as squats and lunges, she was given a programme that included plenty of rest time, and she’s now back doing fitness classes.
A typical workout involves deadlifts, rowing, shoulder presses and working out on the exercise bike.
She said: “You feel so much better for it. You get a sense of euphoria when you can do an exercise that you just weren’t able to do when you first came back after the surgery.
“It’s helped me mentally in that you know that you can do this. I’m not an invalid, I’m not someone who can have things taken from me.
‘There’s certainly been bad days’
“There’s certainly been bad days. When you get back into exercise after something happens like that, you just have to accept that you need to be kind to yourself, don’t push yourself all the time. There’s nothing wrong with a sofa day.”
Wilma is now working out four times a week, and although it’s still tough, she gets out of breath quickly, she says she’s “determined” to keep her fitness levels up.
And she’s now challenging herself to go hill walking, climbing a Munro over the summer months with one of her four sons.
“I have been very lucky,” she added: “Post-op my family and friends have been amazing. You focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.
“I’ve got a fabulous husband and four amazing sons and I just wanted to be here. I remember thinking to myself very early on ‘Why me?’
“But why not me, what was so special about me that it couldn’t be me. Once you accept this is where you are you just have to do everything you can to make the most of a second chance.
“I just make the most of that.
“I’m here, I’m fit, I’m healthy and I’m loving life.”
“I call Wilma my inspiration – if she can do it, I can do it.
Exercise can help people recover from major surgery and is also believed to prevent certain types of cancer.
Fitness trainer Ross Crosbie said: “I call Wilma my inspiration – if she can do it, I can do it.
“She came back after her chemo and I told her her role to her recovery needs to be a marathon, not a sprint. And she’s been amazing!
“Gradually she’s just got better, she’s invested her life into being fit and to her health.
“But to have that dedication to saying ‘no, I’m not letting this beat me, I’m going to recover from this’ – for me that was inspiring.”