How I Did It: Lilyin Yang

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Here’s how one 24 Hour Fitness personal trainer found her calling in the midst of her battle with breast cancer.

My name is Lilyin Yang, and I’m a 30-year-old personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness in Fullerton, California. I am also nutritionist, cook, mother and breast cancer survivor, and I’m currently working on my master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics at Loma Linda University.

This is my transformation story.

24Life: Tell us about your fitness journey—where does it begin?

Lilyin Yang (LY): I have always been active. I used to do yoga, Pilates and cardio workouts before I had a baby. After I had my little one, Thomas, I started weight lifting.

I got my Bachelor of Science in nutrition and food science [in Korea]. I used to work on the R&D team for bakery products and menu development, and also was a buyer of processed food (regulating cost, importing/exporting, USDA/FDA rules, etc.).

I decided to quit my full-time job as a buyer in 2015 to continue my studies in the nutrition and dietetic program. [After I had my son] I found out that a lump on my right breast was cancer. I was only 27 years old and freaked out. I flew out to Korea right way with my son to get treatment.

Even during my chemo, which was during a very hot summer in Korea, I was still riding my fixed-gear bike and training at the gym with a mask on. After chemo, during the winter season when my radiation started, I was still snowboarding and training at the gym almost every day as well.

24Life: What made you want to become a personal trainer?

LY: That one-year gap during my treatment made me decided to be a personal trainer.

I was at the gym in Korea every day after surgery during my chemo and radiation treatments. I realized that fitness made me so strong, to be who I am and to beat the cancer cells, and I decided to get certified to be a trainer.

24Life: When you were diagnosed, when did you decide to fight? What did that lifestyle and mindset change look like for you?

LY: Imagine that you have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Would you think “I’ll just give up?” No.

I was, of course, panicked at the first phone call that I got it from my primary doctor. I started to cry right after I called my husband to tell him that I had breast cancer. But I didn’t want to waste my time just crying or asking God or myself, “Why me?”

I decided to go to Korea to meet the breast cancer treatment team, because I have my little one to support and my husband. When I called my mom in Korea to tell her, she told me, “God gives you at least one ordeal in your life, but he’s never going to give you something that you can’t overcome or learn from.” She told me to come to Korea for treatment and supported me during my whole treatment.

I’m [currently] in my second year of remission.

24Life: Who helped you through your battle with cancer?

LY: I’m really lucky that I have my family supporting me all the time—my husband and also my son, he always gives wonderful energy to me. And I’m currently living with my husband’s parents. Even though I’m working at the gym and also working on my master’s degree right now, they’re always there whenever I need help from them.

24Life: While you were going through cancer, what kept you motivated to get up every day, to keep working out and keep fighting?

LY: Every day I woke up during my treatment, my son was right next to me. He was always giving me bright smiles and saying, “Hey, Mommy, how are you feeling?” And then he sometimes touched my bald head and played with it [laughter]. He always brightened up my days. I was like, “Yeah, I will never give up on my life.”

I also have a strong belief that I am going to chase my dream. So I would not let this little cancer thing bring me down.

24Life: What surprised you the most about yourself during this journey?

LY: I found myself so beautiful without hair.

24Life: What was the most challenging part of your journey and how did you overcome it?

LY: I would say that the most challenging part was one day before chemo. After the surgery, I had one month to just enjoy my life. The day before the first chemo, I was pretending that I not was scared. [But] I was really scared. I’m human. I was really worried, “What if I have nausea, vomiting?” I had an appointment for chemo at 10 a.m., but I only slept like three hours because I keep researching all the side effects. But once I [finished] the first chemo, the day after, I had a little mild nausea. That was it. After the second and third treatments, I had none.

24Life: What is your go-to workout?

LY: During chemo, I spent probably every other day at the gym, doing core exercises, of course. I spent a lot of time on my lower body.

In general, I like to do a whole-body workout without any weights, like jumping squats, lunges, burpees and mountain climbers. And then some challenging things like reach out planks, up-and-down planks. Those are my favorite ones.

24Life: Any specific rituals you have that you think may be helpful to others going through a similar battle?

LY: I learned that you never want to go looking for worst-case of you side effects. Don’t ever, ever waste your time on those.

Also, just try to stay positive; you deserve this life. We only live once. So, enjoy it, be happy that you’re still alive. Even though we are fighting [cancer], we’re still alive.

24Life: What’s next for you? Do you have any future goals that you’re going after next (or currently)?

LY: I have so many things that I would love to do. I’m currently working on a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. My goal is to be a professor and a nutritionist.

And I still want to keep my career as a trainer, too. I want to educate people how to balance their lives and eat better and then move their bodies better. That’s my goal.

24Life: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for those battling breast cancer—especially for those who may want to remain active and live a healthy lifestyle?

LY: As long as you have a firm, positive mindset you can get through it. I understand you will be freaked out by side effects and other stuff from chemo or different types of treatment, but don’t try to look at the downside of those things. You have your friends and family around you to support you. Appreciate every moment that you have now. This experience will make you even stronger, and then you’ll have more stories to share with [others] who are fighting with their own disease or illness.

And don’t forget to move your body. Every movement will make you feel alive and mentally support you when you are scared of cancer.

Please note that the results that Lilyin 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.

Photo credit: Tom Casey,; Dot, Line, Side Photo