Vital Views

Undergraduate student Lilyin Yang explains why she switched careers to become a nurse and how her life's changed as a cancer survivor.

Creators & Guests

Joseph Gaccione
Host, Writer, Producer
Lilyin Yang
UNLV Nursing undergraduate student

What is Vital Views?

Vital Views is a weekly podcast created by UNLV School of Nursing to discuss health care from a Rebel Nursing perspective. We share stories and expert information on both nursing-specific and broader healthcare topics to bring attention to the health trends and issues that affect us. New episodes every Tuesday.

Feedback? Questions? Episode Ideas? Email

Lilyin Yang
Joe Gaccione 0:01
Welcome to Vital Views, podcast for UNLV School of Nursing. I'm Joe Gaccione, communications director for the School of Nursing. You're probably wondering why a communications guy is talking to you about nursing. Fair point. I'm not a nurse, but I know plenty of nurses who are willing to share their expertise from all walks of life. My goal is to hopefully help facilitate their knowledge to try and make it less in the weeds and more palatable for general audiences while retaining the importance of what these health pros are talking about. These nursing stories focus on work on the front lines, in the classrooms, in the lab, wherever our nurses are making a difference. We're all getting a front row seat to essential health information through the lens of a nurse's vital views. There are about 30 students currently in UNLV Nursing's accelerated second degree bachelor in nursing program. It's a long name, but this program gives non-traditional students a chance to earn an undergraduate nursing degree if they already have a bachelor's in another field. This is a more intense track than a traditional bachelor's in nursing program, but it offers an opportunity for people who are interested in nursing to add a new chapter to their lives in order to scratch that itch of helping others. Joining us today in the booth is Lilyin Yang, one of our current second degree bachelor students. Her first degree was in food science and nutrition. Lilyin's come a long way towards earning a nursing degree. Seven years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully, she's now in her eighth year of remission, and she's also involved in nonprofit work to spread the word on breast cancer awareness. Lilyin, thanks for coming in.

Lilyin Yang 1:24
Thank you. Thanks for having me on this weekend.

Joe Gaccione 1:27
Let's start with your background, nutrition and food science. What made you take the leap into nursing?

Lilyin Yang 1:32
So, I went to culinary art high school. That kind of like led me into interest in nutrition and food science, but I was in rotations and clinicals as part, I noticed myself that like, I love to be in like, hands-on jobs instead of just, I mean, I'm not really like discriminating properties of the other jobs, but I'm, I feel like I'd like to be close to patients and I like taking care of in-person, like hands-on jobs, like compared to dieticians doing more like prescription-based work. So yeah, that's why I’ve been here.

Joe Gaccione 2:05
Now, how has it been so far? Now, as of this recording, you've been in the program for several months now at least?

Lilyin Yang 2:13
Yes. It's actually been full two month, yes. Well, it's only been two months, we've been taking how many classes, like four classes already? Like, like you expect it, like it's accelerated programs, super fast, super intense, hardcore, but I love it so far because I don't have to like, take a little break. No, just nonstop doing and finishing it quickly because it's kind of like, so it's in my personality as well. It's, it's difficult but challenging, but I love it so far.

Joe Gaccione 2:46
Now with your background in health, not just in education, but you're also a personal trainer. Has that helped you so far in nursing school?

Lilyin Yang 2:52
Oh yeah, of course. Like I'm training my clients, it's also like giving me a lot of like, approach from like, communication skills. Of course sales I think it’s sales number one, but I feel like nursing is also based off like your taking care of your patients or either, how do I say, oh, clients. So, yeah, that, that helps a lot. Also, some of the like muscular, like body systems, like, which is like very heavy focused on like personal training too and with that part I could like accommodate well with some of the classes that I'm taking as well.

Joe Gaccione 3:26
Mentioning sales, you bring up a good point when it comes to nursing. It's not just the tech side, the technical aspects, the health science knowledge. You have to have an interpersonal relationship too. You have to be able to talk to people. You're not selling them necessarily, but you have to be engaging. You have to, the treatment is, is building that connection too.

Lilyin Yang 3:47
Yes. I'm a hundred percent with you. It's not necessarily selling the product. I think like the beauty of sales, because I'm currently working as a B2B sales job too, I'm having two jobs, sales and training, the beauty of sales will be like your, I don't have to be the person like selling products to make profit. It could be like sharing my stories or like stories from the others to convince them to do something in the right way or like having a better care plan.

Joe Gaccione 4:13
What's it like interacting with your cohort because all of your, or have your own unique background, you've all lived the undergraduate experience somewhere else and now you're all coming for one common goal. What's it been like hearing their stories?

Lilyin Yang 4:28
Oh, we have like a very different varieties, like lots of like, different backgrounds. Some of them are, one in pre-med, like I think there are a lot of them are pre-meds, kines major. I think one of the most interesting background major I heard, one of them are agriculture. I haven't really like seen it.

Joe Gaccione 4:47
And that's, that's interesting to see, go from agriculture to nursing. I mean there's that science basis, but it's, it's fascinating.

Lilyin Yang 4:54
It's different. It is different, but it's, yeah. They're a lot.

Joe Gaccione 4:56
We mentioned during the introduction that you're now in your eighth year of remission, you were diagnosed with breast cancer seven years. Can you talk about that moment when you found out, were there, were there red flags that that clued you in that maybe there could be something wrong?

Lilyin Yang 5:11
Well, actually, yeah. Eight years. This is almost ending. It's gotta be nine years soon. I'm excited. Well, first diagnosis was in 2015. There wasn't like, I guess like there was a sign and no symptoms. I guess just signs and symptoms to say during the pregnancy of my four month pregnancy, I found a little lumps are there that was like quarter size, like kind of little tiny nodules I would say. So I talked to my OB doctor and they said, “No need to worry about it,” like, “You're pregnant, so let's just go ahead and wait. It just looks like a mammary gland.” He didn't send me any follow ups. I was waiting. I bet it was okay. And after I had a baby it was still there, I will follow with the primary then, and then they got me an ultrasound. Says, says the same thing, was just fiber lumps. So I was like, yeah, I would keep checking every six months, but I feel like the lump was growing. So at the end I had to request a biopsy. That's what they did, that's how we found that it was a cancer. So like usually people saying that if it's a cancer or slumps, you will not be able to move, like the lumps will not moveable, immoveable, or either like you have other like symptoms like discharge of something, like rash, different like shapes, but I didn't have anything except for like those lumps are growing. It was around like, I guess like 3.3 centimeters, like it was like a golf ball size and it, it actually spread out to the lymph nodes just because that I had to wait two and a half years to get this biopsy. They wouldn't put me on any follow ups, just because I was only 24 at that time.

Joe Gaccione 6:51
And then how long did your treatment last?

Lilyin Yang 6:53
So I did full year, so I had to do, first I had to do all testing again. I actually flew back to Korea because I didn't wanna wait again because I didn't know what stage I was at. And I did all the testing again and I had a lumpectomy, so they took the lumps out and then they took some lymph cells out too, because it was transmitted to lymph nodes too, and chemo for six months and another two month for radiation. So it's, it's about a whole year I will say.

Joe Gaccione 7:27
What myths did you debunk personally as you were going through your diagnosis, your treatment, and even in remission? Were there things that you had heard about breast cancer that when you actually went through you thought, “Oh, this really isn't true,” or, “This is actually a lot different than what people thought”?

Lilyin Yang 7:43
Oh, there are so many because like, in like general concept about breast cancer or any type of cancer treatments, the base of chemo or surgery, so you of course, your immune system level was really lower than the others, so I was really worried about having like crazy side effects of chemotherapy, which is like nauseous, vomiting, or light loss of, loss of your hair, everything. I was actually okay handling the nauseous vomiting. I, I had none, I only had a one time for the first one. I was actually okay with that. Of course, I lost hair, but other than that I was perfectly fine. I guess it's all the like positive mindset that like, “Oh, I could just go through this,” you know? I'm young enough that God always gives you the right way to like go through whatever the ordeal is that you have. Yeah, I was actually okay handling those parts. It's just the fact that like, just a little bit nervous of hearing all the negative like facts, pieces from everywhere. You know, that kind of like makes me nervous at the first, before starting chemotherapy.

Joe Gaccione 8:46
And, and in other people's defenses, everyone's different. So it's, it's, we're not saying that one case is how it normally is.

Lilyin Yang 8:54
Yes, my case cannot be for everybody, but like, at least like for myself, like it wasn't too bad. I was still working out, I snowboarded during the radiation therapy. I know people say crazy, but I was actually handling okay. Everybody's different. Like everybody could handling different, it could become at a different, but like, I don't, I would say feel yourself, like you could go through. I know it'll be rough. It, it's, it's, it wasn't easy. It's not easy way. But I would say, I would say it's okay.

Joe Gaccione 9:22
Through some recent volunteer work, I spoke with pediatric cancer survivors and they said one common myth for them was even after treatment and remission, the remission wasn't the end of it, like there were still regular checkups, it wasn't totally done. Did you feel that way? Did you have that too?

Lilyin Yang 9:40
Oh yes. Like, a bad pediatric cancer will be more, they have to follow more protocol, I believe, because usually the pediatric cancer is more like aggressive, like compared to like breast cancer, the hormonal, it depends on the types, I cannot say what's what, but for my case, yeah, I have to follow up every six month of like all the protocols for memo, ultrasound, MRI, and then every year with the bone density and other stuff as well for, I would say, oh, and then hormone fields too.

Joe Gaccione 10:15
The moment you found out you were cancer free, how euphoric is that experience? Do you feel like it was giving you, as cliche as this might sound, a new lease on life?

Lilyin Yang 10:24
I didn't really feel like, like, “Oh, I'm cancer free,” because I, like I said, I believe that like I will go through this, and finally it's done. I was just like, “Hey, I just have to be careful from now and just watch myself more.” I was eating well and I work out even before I had a cancer, but like I wanted to make sure that like I share my stories to other people. So like, it could be happen to anybody. Everyone has a cancer, carcinogenic cells in your body genetically. It just depends like how you develop. It's not you. You know, like it could happen to anybody. It just happened to me. I was really healthy, like nothing would happen. But yeah, I just wanted to share my stories to everyone and inspire, say that like we could prevent it, just do more like follow ups and then, if you see some signs and symptoms like I did during my pregnancy, of course my doctor wouldn't like, let me do, do farther, but like you, I noticed that like you just have to keep, like fight through, you, you would have to be on the top of it, making sure you're on your right track to like taking care of yourself.

Joe Gaccione 11:30
Well, you're pretty active as a survivor. You're part of a nonprofit yourself, Barbells for Boobs. Can you talk about what that group does?

Lilyin Yang 11:35
So we are a nonprofit organization for a post-cancer breast cancer patient, also like current-cancer breast cancer patients too, helping them to move again because in most of the cases that we found out, my doctor too, they said, “Oh, your right arm, because you have no lymph nodes on your under armpit, so you cannot move at all. Don't lift heavy. Of course you cannot inject any IVs, no blood pressure, I was going to say BP, blood pressure checkups, nothing. Just go ahead and save your arms because like you will, body will react, like get swollen and a lot of inflammation in that part. But I was able to like, using body weight first to build my strength again, back into it. I'm still working out too, lifting heavy without any issues, but there are lots of like post-cancer patients just following the, all the protocols like saying, “Oh, you can't move again,” but technically you should move more because you're building your scar tissues. So it will, it will raise your range of motion. So, so that's the, that's what we usually do. We are helping them mentally, also physically, to move again, like providing the coaching for working out and the mental and the nutrition programs as well.

Joe Gaccione 12:55
Do you sign up, do people sign up if, if they've had cancer and they're recovering, do they sign up with you? Do you go out and look for, work with certain groups? How does that connection work?

Lilyin Yang 13:04
So we have a like Facebook and Instagram, the pages. So we share stories and like, share the programs as well. And also our founders and other coaches, they go to the gyms to coach them as well. But most of the time, also it's daily and then in the mornings there's a coach doing online virtual coaching programs and every morning weekdays.

Joe Gaccione 13:29
And we will have that information on this episode page when it drops. Looking at your long-term nursing goals, obviously you're still relatively new in the second bach program. With your background, are you looking at potentially oncology or are you looking at other fields?

Lilyin Yang 13:43
Well, my main like biggest like, step was to start nursing, was to be in oncology, but like, I also want to like, experience something like ER or med/surg, like some more like a dynamic like steps of like nursing, that's what I feel like. I don't know. I'm still debating maybe oncology of course, but like the other options will be ER or med/surg departs as well.

Joe Gaccione 14:06
We've touched on being a non-traditional student, going back to school, it takes a leap of faith. It, it, it takes confidence to be able to say, “I've had this career and now I'm going into a totally new field,” even though there's, there's some overlap in knowledge. What would you say to people that might be interested in becoming a nurse or at the very least, wanting to change their careers?

Lilyin Yang 14:30
Right, right. I would say that was actually like in my thought during COVID time, you know, I was working at home too. I had lots of time to think of my career path. So I, in my head, I was like, “Where could I leave like more than like a hundred years now?” So I'm only at like 30, so I, I still have like more than 70% of my life if it's a give or take, so I was like, I always wanted to work in the med field again, so I wasn't a dietetics, but I wanna work with the patient closely, so why not? So I've started researching lots of like these kind of podcasts and also YouTube sources that whoever had like changed their career path. And I believe in myself that I could still do it. I mean, life is not short anymore with all those like great, like healthcare systems and the people like taking spend more time for like, they're taking care of like health as well. So I would probably tell like someone who's like thinking about changing career, like, then there's no late time. There's no time for late or right time. You could do it, whatever you are believing inside yourself, I will say.

Joe Gaccione 15:40
That is all the time we have. Lilyin, thank you so much for coming in.

Lilyin Yang 15:43
Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me. It was really wonderful.

Joe Gaccione 15:46
Thanks for listening out there. Hope you have a great day.