REGENERATION

What Breast Cancer Survivor Lilyin Yang Does Daily to Stay Healthy

By Rachelle Mahoney

Lilyin Heesuk Yang is many things: wife, mother, daughter, certified nutritionist, Master Trainer at 24 Hour Fitness Fullerton and breast cancer survivor.

Now in her third year of remission, Yang looks back on 2018 as a year to remember. She started the year working as a translator for the Winter Olympic Games. She also became a Master Trainer, and is excited to continue learning and helping more people on their path to health and fitness. “My remission years are going fantastic so far. Being a trainer is the coolest thing; I can talk to more people in the club and motivate them, or be motivated by them,” Yang says.

But mainly, Yang is so full of gratitude and joy for three side-effect-free years of being cancer-free.

24Life caught up with Yang to ask about her day-to-day routine for remaining healthy in the wake of breast cancer, as well as how we can help and support our own loved ones who may be currently battling cancer.

24Life: When you were diagnosed with breast cancer, what were some tangible, daily steps you took to beat it?

Lilyin Yang: I was diagnosed with Invasive Mucinous Carcinoma stage IIB in 2015. It was a pretty rare case for such a young breast cancer patient. I flew out to Korea, where my parents live, to get treatment for a year. I had to do lumpectomy surgery, and after the surgery, I did six months of chemotherapy and two months of radiation therapy. During my treatment, I was trying to be active the whole time.

There were some bad and tired days, but I tried to stay with my workout routine as much as I could. I would wake up at 6 a.m., stretch and work on mobility, and then ride my fixed-gear bike for an hour. After I sent my son to school, I spent time at the gym strength training every day or every other day. Once I had gotten started with radiation therapy it was snowboarding season! So, I went up to the mountain almost every day to practice my shredding skills. I took my son to the mountain with me on the weekends. (He was only 2-and-a-half years old at that time, and played in the snow and snowboarded with me on his own Burton Riglet tiny snowboard.)

24Life: Now that you’re in remission, what are some daily things you do to prevent the risk of the breast cancer returning? 

LY: Of course taking my hormone pill, Tamoxifen, every day at 7 a.m. It’s so hard to be on time. I always forget, especially on the weekends or when we travel. It is ironic that I never forget to eat and exercise, but pills I am not used to yet, even though it’s already been three years! My husband even put my pills in our storage box for camping, because he knew that I would forget.

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24Life: What do your workout routine and diet look like to stay healthy and cancer-free?

LY: I’ve slightly changed my workout routine to focus more developing my performance for snowboarding. Three days of resistance training and two days of strength and conditioning. My two days of recovery and rest are spent meal prepping, skate boarding or riding bikes with my son. I haven’t really cut any types of workouts from my routine. I feel a little tightness in my surgery area when I do certain workouts for pectorals or even shoulder workouts, but I still do it with a proper warm-up and banded stretches.

Every morning, I start my day with a detox juice that my mother-in-law makes for me, and then have probably four to five meals spaced out every three hours. I try to keep my weekdays full of clean, lean protein including tofu, turkey, chicken breast, hummus and eggs, with a certain amount of good fats and high GI grains. I am not too strict about my diet. Instead I’m trying to listen to my body to feed myself. When my body craves some chocolate for example, I have a piece of dark chocolate or cacao nibs.

I try to avoid having red meat often—once or twice in a week max. As a nutritionist I’ve been researching the relationship between meat products and cancer. The antibiotics and the food additives that are used to produce or even process meat products have higher levels of carcinogens. So when I pick meat, poultry and dairy products, I always try to get organic certified products.

I don’t drink strong coffee or pre-workouts with high doses of caffeine. My body is super sensitive with caffeine. Lastly, no distilled alcohol! I only have one or two glasses of wine or beer here and there on a special occasion.

24Life: How often do you visit the doctor for a checkup?

LY: I do a checkup every six months, which I’ll continue to do until 2021, and then I will be doing annual checkups.

24Life: How important is mindset as someone battling cancer, and as a cancer survivor?

LY: Mindset is the first thing that has to come with battle mode. When we’re scared, we have to tell our mind, “It will be OK. We are dealing with some stuff that will make us stronger and we will be fine.” Positive mindset is the key to who I have become.

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24Life: How important are other people during your cancer fight, and your fight to remain in remission?

LY: It is a HUGE part—at least 99 percent. My family and friends are always around me whenever I need them. If I didn’t have anyone, I would be so depressed and it would be a hard fight. As a daughter, wife, mom and trainer, I have so many roles keeping me accountable to living.

24Life: Any advice for someone battling breast cancer, or someone currently in remission?

LY: You are not alone in this. If you look around, everyone is thinking of you and loves you.

24Life: What are some ways someone can support their friend or loved one who is going through breast cancer?

LY: Just be with them and enjoy every moment with them. I’m not saying that you don’t need to be taking care of them, just be positive and make them feel comfortable with the fight and that they can get through it. Your love and attention will be their main energy to fight with.

24Life: What is your daily mantra—something you tell or remind yourself every day?

LY: I am thankful that I always wake up with my son and husband. I feel so loved. I am happiest person in the world. I call myself ‘Lilyin the Warrior.’ One of my friends gave me this nickname during my treatment and I am still using this name for my name tag at the gym as well. It keeps me feeling like I am fully alive and have a reason to be living here as a warrior.

24Life: How different is your life now compared to before breast cancer? Anything you prioritize or do now that you didn’t before you were diagnosed?

LY: Before I had cancer, I never payed attention to someone’s motivational book or speech. But during and how, I listen to motivational speeches more because I realized that my brain has been eager to learn something from other people who have gone through different experiences.

Video credit: Tom Casey, box24studio.com
Photo credit: (hero) Tom Casey, box24studio.com; Lilyin Heesuk Yang

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Author

Rachelle Mahoney

Rachelle (Cihonski) Mahoney is an editor, writer and everyday fitness fanatic who loves running, yoga, BODYPUMP and trying the next crazy cool new fitness class. (Pilates on a surf board? Count her in!) A graduate of Biola University, Rachelle is a San Francisco Bay Area native and was previously the managing editor of a lifestyle magazine, where she also wrote about fitness, food, people and fashion. She is a Les Mills certified BODYPUMP instructor. While Rachelle loves getting her sweat on, she mainly exercises so she can enjoy all the amazing foods her husband cooks up in the kitchen—but the happiness endorphins are definitely an added bonus!

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