How a breast cancer survivor transformed her life with positive thinking, more sleep, healthy eating and smarter workouts

Lim says she “couldn’t believe it” when her doctor told her she had an aggressive form of breast cancer. Photo: Julianne Danielle Lim

In January 2021, she underwent a mastectomy and deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flap surgery, a type of breast reconstruction that uses skin, fat and blood vessels from the lower abdomen to rebuild the breast.

She also underwent radiation therapy for several weeks, and received eight cycles of oral chemotherapy.

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The side effects of the treatments affected Lim both physically and mentally. She felt like she had been “ejected” from her successful life and struggled with her identity, unable to recognise herself as she hit rock bottom.

As someone who spent a lot of time and money on beauty treatments and always presented herself a certain way, she says she was distraught when she lost her hair and eyelashes after the chemotherapy.

The cancer treatments also caused severe acne breakouts. She cried most days as she attempted to come to terms with these unwanted changes.
Lim, whose cancer has been in remission since 2021, is keen to share her story with others. Photo: instagram/@juliannedanielle

Lim says that during this difficult period, she started to reassess her lifestyle and habits, looking inward to figure out which aspects of her life needed work.

Before being diagnosed with cancer, Lim had lived a relatively healthy lifestyle. She exercised daily and stuck to a healthy diet. She had often pushed herself to the brink of exhaustion and survived on very little sleep most nights. She also grappled with negative thoughts.

“I was determined to transform my life, not just to feel better about my situation but also to minimise the risk of the cancer ever coming back,” she says.

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“I asked every doctor and medical expert I met for their advice, and they all told me the same thing: live a healthy lifestyle, enjoy balanced meals, exercise daily, get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, stress less and have a positive attitude.

“I looked at my own habits and made a plan to hit each of those targets.”

Lim used to reward herself with processed snacks. She also felt guilty whenever she indulged in her favourite (and often unhealthy) Singaporean hawker dishes.

I have a renewed sense of purpose now

Julianne Danielle Lim

As she worked on transforming her diet, she made the conscious decision to focus on macronutrients and limit her intake of foods that were not good for her or that made her feel sluggish and bloated.

These included foods containing gluten, dairy products, processed snacks such as cookies and potato chips, and convenience foods like pizza.

Instead of catching up with friends over a meal and alcoholic drinks, she began inviting them to walk, hike and work out with her so that they could bond and work up a sweat at the same time.

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She started to prioritise sleep, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day and sleeping for at least seven hours every night. She also got used to scheduling rest breaks in between appointments during the day.
Lim no longer compartmentalises or ignores stress-inducing thoughts and feelings; rather, she addresses them right away and does her best to reduce or eliminate stressors in her life.

“It’s important to deal with stress once you start to feel it; many of us don’t often notice the effects of stress on our mental and physical health until it’s well and truly taken hold,” she says.

Lim also changed the way she viewed exercise. Instead of seeing it as a way to lose weight or something to just get over with in the mornings, she started to appreciate it for the way it made her feel: strong, vital and powerful.

She ditched the “no pain, no gain” mindset and began taking a more balanced approach when working out, neither overdoing or underdoing it.

After she finished chemotherapy and felt well enough to exercise, Lim worked with a personal trainer to regain her strength and confidence. She walked every day, eventually building up to short, and then long, runs.

After her cancer diagnosis, Lim began taking a more balanced approach when working out, neither overdoing or under-doing it. Photo: Julianne Danielle Lim

She also worked on her core strength, doing push-ups and lifting weights to help tone and strengthen her muscles – something she hadn’t done before.

As the months passed, she began to notice how exercising improved her mood and focus, and soon she was looking forward to lifting weights, running and walking lunges.

She now exercises multiple times a day and even goes on fitness holidays. Connecting with her body in this way, she says, makes her feel happy.

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Lim’s cancer has been in remission since 2021. That same year, she founded Strong Bold Grateful, a resource platform for people with cancer.

Lim is determined to remain cancer-free. For now, she is relishing her journey of self-discovery, enjoying uncovering her strengths, and continues to do whatever she can to achieve and maintain true health.

“This means taking a holistic approach to your health: keeping fit, looking after your body, ensuring you’re getting the right nutrients in the right amounts, staying hydrated, getting restful sleep, screening for health problems, taking time for yourself and reflecting on your emotions,” she says.

“I have a renewed sense of purpose now. I’m on a new mission to make positive changes to my lifestyle, transform my mindset and celebrate life,” she adds.


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