UFC vet & former MMA champ talks toughest opponent: cancer

UFC vet Poliana Botelho has used social media to share her experiences with fans.

By: Lucas Rezende | 2 months ago
UFC vet & former MMA champ talks toughest opponent: cancer
IMAGO/USA Today Network: UFC vet Poliana Botelho left the promotion in 2022.

UFC veteran and current Bellator fighter Poliana Botelho has been going through a tough battle outside of the cage. Having been diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, the Brazilian has been trying her best to face the disease with courage and positivity.

‘At first you don’t believe it’ says UFC veteran

However, Poliana Botelho told Combate that wasn’t where she started out. When she first began her treatment, the Brazilian says she felt confused and didn’t understand how someone so young and healthy like herself could ever end up with cancer. As the 34-year-old explained, it took a while until she came to terms with her condition.

“At first, you don’t believe it,” Botelho explained. “I was like ‘What? I eat well, I’m healthy. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. How?’. There’s no explanation. The first day I arrived at the clinic, I looked at the nurse and said ‘What am I doing here?’. It didn’t add up. I took a genetics exam and there was no match. I’d look around and think ‘There’s no reason for me to be here’. I was like that for a long time. Until my sixth session, I was still asking myself that.”

Social media has played a major part in helping Poliana Botelho

Now that Poliana Botelho has been living with the disease for some time and treatment has been going well, she believes the best way of facing this situation is with positivity. It’s a frame that has proved to be an inspiration to her followers on social media as well. Ever since Botelho made her sickness public and started posting about it on Instagram, the athlete says it has helped her deal with her treatment better, while also potentially helping others.

“As hard as the disease was, I wanted to give my best,” Botelho explained. “Of course I’m going to cry sometimes, but I didn’t want anything to take away my smile. I wanted to show people what I was actually going through. Of course there were awful moments, when I was feeling really bad. I recorded myself on public transport, showing that I was doing bad. Lots of people sent me messages, telling me ‘You made me go out of the house today, I hadn’t done that yet.'”

“I wanted to show people the reality. Show them what I had told myself. That I’m going through the worst moment of my life in the best possible way. I wanted to give them my best smile, the best energy. I’d give all of that on Instagram and at the same time, I was giving it all to me, too. Both our lives and ourselves evolve when we stay positive.”

The struggle can be both physical and mental

Though sharing her experiences on Instagram have helped Botelho early on, she admits she has not been posting so much lately, now that she is in a different moment in her treatment. While the Nova Uniao fighter is no longer going through the vicious chemotherapy process, she is now struggling with her personal image and the changes the treatment have made to her body.

For those reasons, Botelho prefers to be more reserved until she learns how to better handle that part of the process.

“There are two different stages. The first one, chemotherapy, was very physical. My body was at its limit,” Botelho admitted. “I’m through with chemo, though. Radiotherapy only makes me sleepy, thank God. I haven’t been as active on Instagram as I was before, because I’m at a moment where I can’t find myself. I look in the mirror and I have no hair. My eyelashes and eyebrows, which is now painted on, have just started to grow back.

“You don’t see yourself. I’m all swollen. I don’t see myself in my body. I don’t like posting so much because I don’t like what I see. It’s not me. Where is the person? At the same time, I’ll have to shave my hair off at some point, because it’s falling out.”

Poliana Botelho left the UFC in 2022

Poliana Botelho (9-5) started her career on the Brazilian regional circuit and rose to prominence when she became the Xtreme Fighting Championships champion, back in September 2015. However, she never got the chance to defend that title, as the then 26-year-old was signed by the UFC shortly afterward.

Botelho’s Octagon career lasted four and a half years and seven fights. During her time, she scored wins over Pearl Gonzalez, Syuri Kondo and Lauren Mueller. After her release from the promotion, the 34-year-old signed with Invicta FC, where she made her debut in September 2022 and scored a unanimous decision win over Helen Peralta. Shortly after that fight, she announced a new contract with Bellator although she has not yet had an opportunity to fight for the promotion.


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About the author
Lucas Rezende
Lucas Rezende

Lucas Rezende is a Brazilian journalist and writer from Belem, Para. He has been covering MMA since 2012 and contributing with Bloody Elbow since March 2015. When not writing, Lucas also teaches English. In his free time, he enjoys reading, slapping the bass guitar and traveling.

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