From corporate to cancer: How one woman beat the disease and changed her lifestyle

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In corporate America, life can get hectic.

But for 20 years, Allison Kim, thrived in that work environment as a civil engineer in transportation. She would arrive at her office between 7 to 8 am and put in 12 to 15 hours on a daily basis. Throughout her career, she has worked on land development in Arizona, Caltrans projects in San Francisco and put some time into the Crenshaw Light Rail project.

With so much to do, she wouldn’t always take her lunch break and would often resort to food from vending machines.

Outside of work, Kim spared time to tutor kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods. She also ran races with a goal of recording a personal record for each subsequent event.

For those 20 years, she clocked an average of two hours of sleep per night, hardly ever feeling tired.

Then in 2012, Kim was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Immediately after, she underwent an intensive process to beat the disease with a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, all of which took place in a 10-month period.

“There were moments when I was sick that I thought, ‘I’m not going to see another sunrise. This must be what death feels like’,” she said.

Kim held a position in senior management when she left the corporate world upon her diagnosis. But even with the prestige attached to the job, she did not return to corporate after her recovery.

“I don’t believe my life was spared that I could go back to that crazy life, where I was not taking care of myself at all,” she said.

Today, Kim, 46, is a certified integrative nutrition health coach with her own practice, which assists individuals who lead busy lives – like she used to – in achieving what she calls “life-work balance.”

With her “battle-tested knowledge” in working long hours and neglecting health, Kim hopes she will be able to help people.

“I believe my life was spared so I could change, improve my health and help improve other people’s lives,” she said.

Setting realistic expectations

Coming from an Asian background, it was instilled in Kim to aim high: at a young age, she was taught that being No. 2 was not good enough. Her parents wanted her to speak at all of her graduations and she learned to set the bar high for herself. Among these “unrealistic” goals included always surpassing her recorded times at races.

Eventually, she said she realized that what is good and what is good enough are illusions.

“Expectations are fine, but is that what you really want for your life? I wanted to be the best at everything, but right now I’m happy with whatever I can accomplish.”

While Kim acknowledges there is pain associated with pushing oneself to improve and grow, there is a difference between enduring it and suppressing it. While it can be tricky to discern whether an individual is feeling one or the other, Kim said endurance typically comes with peace.

“Be aware of what you’re enduring and what you’re suppressing. Only you know where you are in relation to your limits,” she said.

Making a conscious effort to take better care of your health

A significant change in Kim’s lifestyle choices that has resulted from having gotten sick is being more particular about the food she consumes. While she was sick, she was unable to eat much because she was could not digest well.

“[My food] had to be very small amounts, but packed with nutrients,” she said.

With her own practice, Kim conducts most of her consultations and meetings online. Many times, she works during lunch hour for her clients but does so remotely, either through conducting webinars, Skype, or conference calls. Working this way spares Kim – who is not a fan of Los Angeles traffic – the stress that comes with navigating through the city’s congested roads.

Kim also makes it a point to exercise every day by penciling it into her schedule.

Even with the time she has been cancer-free, Kim still has to wear gloves to keep her hands, which easily get cold. Also a pianist, Kim does not play as often as she used to these days. Additionally, she still struggles with proper digestion, so she often brings her own food to events that would otherwise offer some. She also does not eat much meat.

“Don’t wait to change your bad habits until you get sick because once you get sick like that, there are many things you have to deal with that become very high maintenance,” she said.

“All of your dreams and aspirations, none of them matter if you’re not healthy.”

(LA Weekend March 21-24, 2015 Sec. B pg.1)

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