SAN DIEGO — Southern California native and East Village resident Lena Collins turned to fitness in her darkest hour after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 19.

“I got this diagnosis and it kind of felt like my whole world was crumbling to be honest,” said Collins. “I was like okay, this is going to be my story. I’m going to be the person who passed away too. I’ll never get married, it doesn’t really matter what I do with my health and fitness.”

After losing both her mother and grandparents to the disease, she knew a drastic change and a miracle had to occur.

“At that point, I had to make a decision: was this going to be the rest of my life, is this going to be my story, or am I going to flip the switch? And that’s what I did,” said Collins.

She completely changed her habits, focusing on eating whole foods and healthy ingredients. Within 2 years, she was cancer-free.

“A couple of years later, I got married. And just like when you fall in love with a new relationship, you gain some weight,” laughed Collings. “Which is normal but I actually ended up gaining like 50-something pounds after being married and I felt like I had to start my journey all over again.”

She doubled down, leaving behind a desk job to fully focus on fitness and getting a personal training certification. She also launched an online wellness platform for women called Team Refine U.

She’s now hosting a one-day wellness retreat on Saturday, Nov. 18 with the San Diego Girls Group to bring together the San Diego fitness community to serve and empower women.

For more information or if you have an interest in signing up, visit the retreat’s webpage.

For more on Lena’s journey, click on the video at the top of this page.