It was 8:45am on a Saturday and I was already 2 drinks deep to start a bachelorette weekend in Las Vegas. My phone lit up with an alert indicating a missed call from my trainer, Marty Farrell. I called him back immediately, with his Boston accent on the other end, “What are you doing?” My response, “I’m on my way to a pool party.” He laughed, and replied, “Julie from Haymakers called and asked if you would fight in place of Emily Jones. You’d be a late add, so you would only have 6 weeks to train though.” I’m not sure if it was the alcohol speaking, or the excitement of fighting in Haymakers for Hope again, but without hesitation I answered, “Yes. It would be an honor.”

This upcoming fight would be my second go around because the badass fighter, Emily Jones, got injured during a rugby match. Emily was a boxer and rugby player, and a scientist at the New England Aquarium who studies sharks. Her life is basically Shark Week every day, but it’s no surprise because she is one person I would consider to be a shark as well. With less than 2 months to train, I’ll be doing my best to maintain Emily’s badass legacy alive, and fighting in an event that means so much to me.

Nearly a year ago, I received an email from Haymakers for Hope stating that I had been selected to compete in Belles of the Brawl 2016. I would be boxing for a charity that tries to “knock out cancer… by literally fighting for a cure.,” meaning, I would fight in the memory of my mom, who lost her battle to cancer in just 3 months. Fast forward to my call with Marty while partying in Vegas, I decided I would fight for her again on May 18th, just a few days after Mother’s Day, because she didn’t get another chance to fight.

Training for Belles 2016 was a 4-month ordeal, that made me closer with my dear friend, Dave Mejia-Giraldo, who renewed his USA Boxing certification just so he could train me, and lead me to victory while wearing the bandana my mom had during her chemo treatment. Training was excruciating at times, but every second of misery I experienced during training was worth it to hear Dave tell me, “You did it,” after the last bell ring and be named the winner.

The weight flew off during my Belles training (especially because I had the entire 4 months) and I didn’t need to watch what I consumed until the last 8 weeks of training. And all that really meant was I needed to cut out sweets and limit my alcoholic beverages to 3 if I was out (I made an exception at a friend’s wedding and about 15). However, this is not the case for what I like to call, “Haymakers 2.0.” With the help of Marty and my nutritionist, Lisa Healey, I have to fit 4 months of training into 6 weeks, lose 17 pounds to make weight, and somehow not rip out my hair before I step into the ring at the House of Blues.

Lisa did a complete overhaul of my diet and Marty turned up my current training to a new level that I didn’t even fathom. I consume minimal calories and the number of carbs I’m allowed to eat in a day are so low I don’t even like saying the number out loud. Coming back from Vegas is always difficult, but even harder when my calories are cut in half, double-days are standard with my morning session starting at 5am, and 500 reps of a core exercise is a daily expectation. Hello summer bod!

Last time, I only trained with Dave, which I loved, but training with other women who have taken me in as a member of their gym family eases the pain of the 4am alarm. They are training for their own fights, but made me the priority of the group because I’m the only fighting in Haymakers. They have stayed behind to run with me because I suck at running distance (yes, 2 miles is distance to me), woken up early just to give me extra sparring, and laughed along with me as we all ask ourselves why we keep coming back at 5am just to get hit in the face.

Earlier this year, I was out on a first date with a sweet guy, who innocently asedk, “So you’re a boxer, huh? I’ve actually never been hit in the face. What does it feel like?” I laughed and gave a vague answer that I barely recall. I usually do that when asked and I’m first meeting people because chances of them wanting my real answer are very slim. But he never asked again, and cringed when I told him about my bloody nose or the time I heard my neck snap after getting hit by my friend.

But my real answer to him and anyone else who has never experienced being hit in the face is this: to me, it feels like Mother’s Day without my mom. It’s jarring and hurts like a mother-fucker at first, but it is raw and pure all at once. After surviving my first Mother’s Day without my mom and eventually my first hit to the face, I accepted that I will always be extra vulnerable on that day or right after taking a hit, but sometimes being gutted open is what I need to know I’m still fighting, that I’m still breathing, just without my mom.

There are days that it is physically painful to get out of bed, afternoons that I’m positive I’ve slept walked through, or nights I go to bed starving because I want more than broccoli and chicken for dinner. But I continuously tell myself that my suffering does not come close to the pain my mom endured during chemo or literally fighting for air while on life-support the last 12 days she was here. She fought until the very last round, even when time was against her, so I owe it to her to fight even though I had less than 2 months to prepare and while nursing a Vegas hang over.

Fight night is coming quickly and so is another Mother’s Day without my mom, but I find comfort knowing that Marty will be in my corner and my friends and family will be cheering from the crowd again. Whether it’s knowing where to go for weigh-ins to anticipating the all the emotions running through my body, I have the luxury of knowing exactly what to expect the night of May 18th because I’ve been under those lights before.

The only thing different this time will be that instead of being an all-female fight card, I will be one half of the only female bout that night. That part doesn’t faze me though because I like being a strong woman among men. After all, I’ve survived a few Mother’s Days without my mom and several hits to the face in front of 1,900 people, and come out victorious from both.

These elements are part of my story now, but to the guy who asked, getting hit in the face hurts like a mother-fucker, but not nearly as bad as Mother’s Day without my mom. While that pain may never go away, the sting I feel after a clean hit is just temporary. It’s raw. It’s pure. And way more fun when you’re trying to knock out cancer in front of a sold out crowd.