Kathy Tuccaro endured physical, mental, verbal and sexual abuse throughout her life even as she became a nurse.
Eventually the trauma caught up to her, costing Tuccaro her job, her home and even her will to live.
But today, the 48-year-old drives the biggest truck in the world in the Fort McMurray oilsands, a second chance she says she will not let go.
"I can't believe the differences of where I've come from [to now]," Tuccaro said in an interview with Edmonton AM Wednesday. "It never ceases to amaze me."
Tuccaro has written a book called Dream Big!, in which she details her life and her struggles.
As a child, she suffered abuse in her home, she said. She was once tied to a chair in a garage and sexually assaulted by boys from the neighbourhood and when she told her step-dad about it, he beat her.
"I had chosen not to look at it," she said. "I had chosen to bury it, to pretend it never happened."
Despite continued abuse into her teenage years, she became a model, working in places like Montreal and New York. She struggled with anorexia and after facing more abuse in that industry, she nearly ended her life. She decided she needed a fresh start. She went to nursing school and graduated as a divorced mother of a three-year-old daughter.
But after working as a nurse between 2000 and 2007, she experienced more violence and abuse, leading her to move into a women's shelter even as she worked.
Dealing with the trauma pushed her into alcohol abuse, ending her nursing career. Shortly after that, she became homeless.
'How does this happen?'
One day Tuccaro found herself sitting in the Boyle Street Community Drop-In Centre with her head on the table.
"I'm looking at my surroundings, and I'm thinking, 'How did this happen? I'm educated, I was a nurse for 13 years. How does this happen?' " she asked.
After her seventh day of homelessness, she met a man named Toothless Joe. He told her something that stuck with her.
"This is the life, live it, love it," Tuccaro remembered him yelling. "It snapped me out of my fog and I'm like, 'This is not my life.'
"Even though I had nothing, the one thing I did know was that was not going to be my life."
With the help of Women Building Futures, Tuccaro attended a career path workshop where her counselor told the former model and nurse that she would be best-suited as a heavy equipment operator.
"I just about fell off my chair," Tuccaro said. She wasn't sure about that career change — she thought of driving big equipment as a man's job — but she decided to take the training.
Even if the job wasn't a good fit, Tuccaro immediately began benefiting from the training.
"The training itself started giving me the self-confidence that I didn't have," she said.
"The training gave me a backbone. It gave me leadership abilities."
After working through the 12-week program at Women Building Futures, she was hired immediately and has now worked in the oilsands for four years.
"That woman who said I'd be geared to be a heavy equipment operator — boy, was she right," Tuccaro said.
Now that she's happy with her job and comfortable with her life, she felt she was ready to share her story with the world — in the hope that it could help others in similar situations know that there is a way out.
"God has given me a second chance in life," Tuccaro said. "I'm not going to waste it."
Listen to Edmonton AM with host Mark Connolly, weekday mornings at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the morning crew on Twitter @EdmAMCBC.