Tae is 21 years old, from Los Angeles, California. She is currently a full-time student at Stanford University studying Human Biology as a pre-med and in the process of applying to medical school. At 9 years old she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a rare and aggressive blood cancer. For Tae, fitness has given her control over her health and body. Tae is putting in hours at the gym and in the library. Her positive mind-set and outlook to life is so inspiring. We connected with her to learn more about her journey from Cancer to gym bunny.
Tae, with Leukeia and now well at 21
Cancer cells wrecked havoc in my bloodstream. Several rounds of chemotherapy destroyed these cells, but also destroyed my body. I was too weak to eat or even sit up in bed. I had no say and no control. My body simply wasn’t mine. My cancer experience is what drives me and my fitness journey every single day.
Fitness is the one aspect of my life that allows me to have complete control over my health and body.
I decide how I want to look, how I want to feel, and how I want to perform. I started consistently lifting and eating clean about 3 years ago and have been able to work toward the body of my dreams. Any time I want to quit or give up, I remember the surgeries, the chemo, and the nausea. I remember the weakness, the pain, and the inability to refuse any of it. I remember WHY I started and how far I’ve come. I’ve reclaimed control over my body and my health through fitness.
Nothing could possibly be more magical
The start of my Fitness Journey
I have always been an athlete (I played varsity volleyball all throughout high school) but really got into health and fitness my senior year of high school, about 4 years ago. It all started with a program called The Squat Challenge, that I honestly purchased just to challenge myself! Sports had always been a great way to stay physically fit, but I was interested in how I could play an active role in my health since I had never been able to before. After I completed the 16-week program, I was hooked.
I loved how working out on my own time made me look and feel. I loved being able to challenge myself physically and mentally.
I then started creating my own workout programs for myself tailored around my specific fitness goals and different ways I could grow.
I immediately hopped into lifting weights via The Squat Challenge program. I still played and play volleyball along with lifting. I initially lifted 3x per week focusing only on my lower body, but I have since transitioned to working out 6-7 days per week focusing on my entire body.
Your body after Chemo
The hardest part about my journey given my medical history were some of the side effects I still experience from the chemotherapy drugs. The drugs that I received can damage your heart, lungs, and bones. Occasionally, I experience heart palpitations or trouble breathing when working out and have to pause, which can be super frustrating. I’ve also recently been told that lifting exceptionally heavy weight puts me at risk for cardiomyopathy, which could eventually lead to me needing a heart transplant. This was a HUGE blow because fitness is freedom to me. But my disappointment passed and I adjusted my training regimen so that I could still achieve my fitness goals while not endangering my health. It’s definitely a tough balance.
Tae before and after weight training
A stronger me
My goal was and is still to gain weight/muscle. I honestly think this stems from how frail I was when I was sick and my desire to distance myself as far as possible from that image of myself. When I was sick, I was about 20-30 pounds underweight, mainly because I was too sick to eat or slept through meals. As I grew up, I stayed pretty slender with a narrow frame, although I did have a bit of muscle from playing volleyball. When I looked in the mirror, I knew that mentally I was strong, but I didn’t feel that it was manifested physically. Of course having a lot of muscle has nothing to do with one’s mental fortitude, but for me, reclaiming my body and having physical strength represented how I overcame the struggle I went through. Since I began my journey at ~145 lbs, I have gained about 30 lbs, most of which is muscle, and I could not be happier!
My current health status is great. I’ve been in remission for 11 years, and only experience minor side effects from the chemotherapy. I’m very closely monitored by a team of doctors that specializes in pediatric cancer survivors, but I am required to take a few medications for life. Besides the heavy weight lifting, I have no restrictions on my physical activity or how I can live my life!
My take on the body positive movement
The body positive movement is so so important! People, especially adolescents, are constantly being fed images of societal and European beauty standards that make it seem as though there is only one look or body type that is beautiful and accepted. Feeling confident in your skin is the most beautiful feeling in the world; and figuring out how to love yourself for who you are is incredible. Every single body is beautiful and should be celebrated. There is nothing wrong with the skin that we are each born in, and I see fitness as a way to embrace self-love through physical health.
Days off? Catch me inside
When I’m not training, I spend my time hanging out with friends, watching Grey’s Anatomy, and studying (A LOT!). Medicine is a HUGE passion of mine (literally all I want to do is just be a doctor every day lol) so I spend most of my time studying so that I can attend a great medical school. I also spend a lot of time working in my lab to find a cure for Acute Myeloid Leukemia alongside the same doctor that treated me for my disease 11 years ago!