October is breast cancer awareness month. This week’s transformation story is the story of a woman who fought breast cancer—and “slayed a dragon.”
My name is Beth Krakower, and I live in Mar Vista in Los Angeles. I’m a publicist, and I work with people who write music for film and television.
In late 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I worked out during my entire chemo treatment process and went into remission last month.
This is my transformation story.
24Life: What does your relationship with fitness look like?
Beth Krakower (BK): I have some random hereditary conditions—each of them is rare on its own, and it’s even rarer to have combinations. Basically, I just have a lot of orthopedic problems; I have an incredibly high arches and completely flat feet. But what I’ve discovered through years of just being attuned to my body and trying and experimenting is that I’m incredibly flexible. The years that I was doing yoga, I could do all of the flexibility but none of the balance. And I realized that when I have built muscle, that pulls everything straight so my alignment is better. I have less pain, but I’m fighting against the fact that I naturally have low muscle tone, and I don’t build muscle as fast. And what’s weird is I don’t build muscle as fast in my legs, but my upper body builds muscle well.
I realized that, in my life, weight training, particularly with my legs, is what keeps me walking. And when I got my cancer diagnosis, I knew that I needed to figure out how I could both survive this deadly illness and still be able to walk.
24Life: When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
BK: On November 23, 2016, I was talking to somebody on the phone with a headset because I don’t like to hold the phone to my ear, and I was too lazy to turn the heat up in my apartment because I was cold. Instead, I just crossed my arms and stuck them under my armpits to get them warm, and I thought, “That’s not supposed to be there. That wasn’t there a month ago.”
I went in for a biopsy on December 6 and a week later found out I had cancer.
24Life: How did your mindset play into facing and fighting your cancer diagnosis?
BK: One of the things that I’ve seen people do is go, “Oh my God. I have something. I have cancer. I’m going to die.” And I said, “That’s not going to be me. I have something and if it’s cancer, I have people in my family who’ve lived so why would I want to think that?”
Also, over that Thanksgiving weekend, I had a dream. I don’t remember all of the dream, but I woke up knowing that part of the dream was me being in a cocoon. I woke up and I knew it was cancer, and I knew this would be a transformation process, and I knew I was going to get out the other side.
I just decided that that was going to be my story—that my story is “I need to become the next version of me,” and you can’t go through that kind of transformation without pain.
Emotionally, if you give in and become that “woe is me” person, you don’t have the emotional strength to fight. And if you give in and think cancer equals death, it’s going to most assuredly equal your death.
24Life: How did your relationship with fitness change after your diagnosis?
BK: I’d been working with [my trainer] Vince for about eight or nine months when I got the diagnosis.
Everybody in chemo class said, “We want you walking, and we want you being active. That’ll help.” So I said, “Well, what do I have to really worry about if I keep going in the gym?” And they said, “Germs.”
If you do chemotherapy, you have no immune system. So I would wear a face mask, so I wasn’t breathing in other people’s air, and I wore latex gloves so that I wouldn’t touch the machines and then inadvertently ingest something. I wouldn’t let my skin touch any of the equipment.
I talked to Vince about it, and we didn’t really change my training at all. He was really good about letting me cancel up to the time of the session if I just couldn’t do it. Other than that, we kept joking around that because of all the protein powder I had to take to counteract the chemo effects, I built incredible muscle like I’ve never built before.
I worked out until I had surgery in June. It was a 20-hour operation. But they were amazed at my recovery from that. Even two weeks out, they had the visiting physical therapist come to my house, and he said, “I really don’t know why I’m here. You’re blowing it out of the water. You’re walking. You’re able to lift your weight. You’re able to do squats. You’re able to move around. Your problem is just range of motion, and you need to work on that at a physical therapy location where they have more equipment.” So I did physical therapy, and I was just cleared to go back to the gym [in September]. I was told I was in remission on September 8.
24Life: How did fitness play a key role in helping you beat cancer?
BK: The worst thing you can do when you’re going through something like chemo is be a lump on your bed. And there are those moments where you just want to be a lump on your bed, but you can’t. Everybody I know that has gone through different types of chemo, they always say, “Keep walking. Keep moving.” And that’s important because chemo zaps you. If you’re not moving, you’re not getting hungry. You’re not burning enough calories to want to eat. You have to keep eating. And you’re not getting the circulation that you need to move the toxins out of your system. I have a dog who needs to walk two miles a day, otherwise she becomes a little yapper. I was walking two miles a day and going to the gym three days a week while in chemo.
It’s funny: I had chemo, a massive surgery and radiation in a little over nine months. Some women have babies, I gave birth to a healthy life. It’s been nine months, and that was my transformation. That’s what I had to do, and now hair’s growing back, and I’m like, “I think I’m keeping my hair short.” I feel like I slayed a dragon.
24Life: Who helped you along the way?
BK: I want to say maybe about 2,000 people [laughter]. First off, my parents. God bless them. They packed up and moved in with me for the better part of 10 months into my one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on my futon, so that if I needed pet care they were there. Food was never an issue, shopping was never an issue. It freed me up to take care of myself and to keep working, because I’m self-employed.
Vincent Van Cleef at 24 Hour Fitness, 100 percent. My downstairs neighbor who helped walk my dog if there was a day that I couldn’t do it.
Because I was Facebook public, so many people. I had one friend from college send me a card a week from the minute he found out until the minute I was in remission, and it always said “Keep kicking cancer’s ass.”
24Life: What kept you motivated to fight—where would you find motivation on days that you just didn’t know how to do it?
BK: I don’t know that I had those days except for at the very beginning. Once I took the step and was in it, [I had] nowhere to go but the end. You have to just keep taking the next step. Just checking things off a list, going “OK, one week down, this many more sessions, this many more days till surgery, this many more days till I could start radiation”—just checking things off a list and knowing that each day I was a step closer.
24Life: Were there moments of self-doubt? What did those look like and how did you overcome those?
BK: Never with the cancer. It was always “Should I still be working? Can I accomplish what I need to accomplish for my clients?” It was never about the cancer because I just accepted that I was going to feel like crap, and feeling like crap was part of the process.
When I was going through chemo, I posted on Facebook and asked my friends to give me recommendations of comedies. I only watched happy things—things that made me laugh, just to try and not be in [a negative] mindset and to not watch things that were too heavy. It sounds funny to say, but I never got down. And maybe [it’s because] I’m a cockeyed optimist. I decided I was going to go through it, and it would be okay, and then I’d be better at the end.
24Life: What did you learn during this journey?
BK: The biggest lesson that I learned is to accept help when it’s offered and to be explicit about what you ask. Everybody asks, ”Is there anything I can do?” What I learned is when people said that, they genuinely wanted to do something and genuinely didn’t know what it was.
So I learned to be explicit: ”Yes, you can be at my house at 5:00 on Wednesday to lift groceries from the first floor to the second floor because my parents have orthopedic problems and can’t, and I’m not allowed to right now.” And they would be like, ”Oh my God, I would love to spend 10 minutes lifting your groceries.” It’s not a big ask, but they don’t know what you really need. I think what I really learned is how to be open to receive.
24Life: What was the most challenging part of your journey and how did you overcome it?
BK: Living with my parents for the first time in 25 years [laughter].
I mean, it’s a one-bedroom apartment with a den, so they don’t have a door to close. They’re living in my office.
24Life: Did you have any goals that you set for yourself?
BK: My goal was to not change my routine as much as I could avoid changing it. I was going to the gym three times a week before cancer, I wanted to go to the gym three times a week with cancer. I was walking my dog two miles a day, five or six days a week. I wanted to make sure I was able to walk my dog two miles, five or six days a week. My goal was to change as little as possible but be open if I have to change.
24Life: What is your go-to workout?
BK: I like to vary workouts, but because of some orthopedic issues, I always need to weight-train my legs. And because of my “terrierist”—my adorable but slightly high-strung dog, Frankie—I try to take a two-mile walk with her four to five days a week. So my go-to’s are always leg day or a nice walk with Frankie.
24Life: What advice do you have for others who are just starting out or want to quit?
BK: Since I’ve put myself out there publicly with my battle, I have become the “go-to” person that my friends come to when they or a friend of theirs have been diagnosed with breast cancer. My advice is pretty simple: Remember that cancer DOES NOT equal death. To fight it, you have to keep taking steps forward through the process. The doctors all tell you to keep moving, that walking helps counteract some of the chemo side effects.
Also, most oncologists can recommend a good nutritionist who can help you figure out what to eat that will help you with your journey, and what foods you’ll be able to tolerate when you are going through treatment. Mine also had me take L-Glutamine three times a day.
In other words, keeping active and eating right are VERY important for your fight.
24Life: Any specific rituals that you have that you think may be helpful to others going through a similar experience?
BK: I generally meditate for a little bit every day just to set myself before the work day starts. Another breast cancer survivor had told me that when she was going through it, she envisioned her blood cells eating the cancer cells. I thought about that and jokingly thought about Pac-Man. And so I would meditate on thousands of little Pac-Men eating cancer and eating away at my tumor.
And I tried to keep in a routine. I tried to not change things.
24Life: What’s next for you? Do you have any future goals that you’ve set?
BK: I’ve thought about priorities, and I have some clients that I’m not going to work with the next time they come around. [Cancer has] forced me to examine working with people I want to work with, working on things I want to work on. I really love that I’m working with this charity for cancer, and I think I want to do more of these philanthropic events.
And I’m really happy that because I was so public on Facebook with it, I’ve had a lot of people that have come to me to help them through it because either they can’t be public with it, or they don’t have the support network. So I suspect I’ll end up being either formally or just kind of loosely a cancer advocate, to help people through it, because it’s hard to navigate.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Beth Krakower
Please note that the results that Beth has experienced are unique to her, and your results may vary. Always consult your health care provider before undertaking changes in your diet or fitness regimen.