Transcript: EP 346 – Breast Cancer in Younger Women, Mindset, and Healthy Habits with Amanda Butler
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Amanda: It just turns your world upside down. And honestly, it’s the hardest thing I’ll ever go through, but I’m also so grateful that I’m going through this experience because, for me, I’ve met so many amazing people and I just feel like this has been a redirection in my life. It literally takes a freaking village to help you get through this.
Dr. Taz: Hi everyone, and welcome to Super Woman Wellness. I’m Dr. Taz. I’ve made it my mission throughout my career in integrative medicine to support women in restoring their health using a blend of eastern medical wisdom with modern science. In this show, I will guide you through different practices to find your power type and fully embody the healthiest and most passionate version of you. I’m here for you and I can’t wait to get started. This is a Soulfire production.
Welcome back, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Super Woman Wellness, where you know we are determined to bring you back to your superpowered self. And joining me today, I have someone to help us do that. Amanda Butler is here. Amanda has transformed lives through her motivating and love yourself First approach to health and fitness. She’s an online and in-person trainer as well as a TikTok content creator, and has secured her place with leading companies like Amazon, Halo, PopSugar, Nike, Adidas. There’s a ton more. After building an online presence in the fitness world, she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in September of ’22. She has been documenting her journey and showing how women who are going through health concerns continue to face life bravely and accept some of the challenges. Welcome to the show, Amanda. So happy to have you here and would love for you to share your journey. I’m always so curious, how does everybody enter the world of health and fitness? What’s their motivation? And then how did having cancer change your perspective on all of that?
Amanda: Wow, thank you for having me. I’m so excited to chat with you and I’m excited to be here and tell my story a little bit. Oh, gosh. Okay, so we’ll rewind it a little bit. I got my degree in health science, and I thought I was going to go the working in hospital route. I had a corporate job in healthcare for three years, and I was like, “I am not a corporate girly.” So I quit my corporate job. I moved abroad. I moved to Bangkok, Thailand for a year and a half, and I was really just trying to get clear on the things that I wanted to do. And then when I came back to the States, that’s how I got my foot, my feet in fitness. I started teaching spin, and then that eventually brought me out to LA and I was working at a bunch of different studios, and I really just took on fitness full on because all the doors just started opening.
I was always super into wellness. I grew up in a very holistic house with my mom, and so I’ve always taken on all of those things, those habits, and so it just was my lifestyle already. It was working out and eating clean. So yeah, I was teaching, I was personal training. I just kept focusing on my career. And then last year, in July of 2022, I found a lump in my right breast and I was like, “This is probably nothing,” as any 32 year old would think. Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family, and all the doctors that I was talking to were like, “Oh, it’s probably just a cyst.” But after a mammogram and ultrasound and then a biopsy, I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.
Dr. Taz: Oh my goodness. What type of breast cancer, if you don’t mind sharing?
Amanda: Triple positive. Triple positive, and yeah, stage two.
Dr. Taz: And as you’ve been talking about this, have you found that more and more younger women are getting breast cancer? That’s been actually my experience just as a physician, but I don’t know if that’s something that you’re seeing just as you’ve been out and as an influencer. Is that something you’re seeing as well?
Amanda: Yeah. Ever since I started sharing my journey through TikTok, I get messages every single week of girls who are 21, 23, 25, diagnosed with later-stage breast cancers. And it’s just really scary because prior to my diagnosis, I knew maybe two people and they were later in age, and I had no idea that the amount of young women who are being diagnosed. It’s really crazy.
Dr. Taz: What happens next? You get a diagnosis, you’re already kind of in the health and fitness world. How does that change? What are they saying drove it or caused it really to begin with? Is there much discussion even around some of that stuff? I’m so curious what people are telling you and what you’re going through as you’re walking through that.
Amanda: Look, as soon as you’re diagnosed, you are given genetic testing, so I was BRCA2 positive. So everyone has the BRCA gene in them, but if there is a mutation of that, then you are more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and I found out I had the BRCA2 gene. But also I contribute a lot of this to birth control. I was on birth control for 12 years, and when I got off of birth control, I was experiencing so many health issues for four years. My estrogen was through the roof. I was working with hormone doctors to try to naturally bring my hormones down and regulate. I didn’t have a period for a year and a half. I was just the perfect example of hormone dysfunction. And then when I was diagnosed finally in March of 2022 with Hashimoto’s, so I think it was all one thing led to another, and then I just feel like it created the perfect storm in my body with the BRCA just for the breast cancer cells to grow. And six months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
So it was, to say overwhelming is not even the best word to describe it, because at the time, because I was going through so many health issues, I was so cognizant of everything that I did that I could control in my life when it came to my health, and I was the healthiest person I knew. I didn’t even look at processed foods. I was on an anti-inflammatory diet for so long. I cut out, alcohol, coffee, did so many things to just really try to gain control of my health. Yeah, so when I was diagnosed, it was just like, “Me? So healthy.” It’s definitely changed my entire life, including my career, because as fitness, you need your body. And when you don’t have your body, it’s like, okay, you don’t really have much of a job anymore, so it’s been tough.
Dr. Taz: Oh my gosh. I can only imagine. And that’s such a good point too, because I feel like, first of all, young women don’t think they’re at risk for breast cancer. There’s that false sense of security there. And I think we don’t talk enough about the birth control pill and what it can and cannot do to the body. And I think a lot of us are like, “Well, I’m healthy. Why do I need to go get X, Y, and Z? I don’t drink. There’s so many different behaviors that we don’t do,” but none of it is ever a guarantee because everyone has unique chemistry and it’s so important to dive into and to understand what that chemistry is.
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So you’re 32, you’re going through, I’m assuming, chemo, and did you have to have radiation as well?
Amanda: I am currently doing radiation. On Monday, it’s my last one, so today was 24 of 25. I know.
Dr. Taz: Yay.
Amanda: It’s gone by pretty quickly, way faster than chemo, but I’m also on low-dose chemo right now called kadcyla, which is a mixture of chemo and immunotherapy, so I’m still heavy in treatment until about March of next year.
Dr. Taz: Okay. What about surgeries? Did you have to have any surgeries as well? Yep?
Amanda: Yep. In May, I had a double mastectomy.
Dr. Taz: Had a double mastectomy as well. What’s this been like? Who’s been your support? What’s the medical community been like? What’s the fitness community been like? How have you had to pivot a little bit in terms of how you take care of yourself?
Amanda: It’s been interesting for sure. I feel like so many people are touched by cancer. We know so many people with cancer. My best guy friend died from cancer when we were 25. But actually being the person going through treatment is a completely different experience and it just turns your world upside down. And honestly, it’s the hardest thing I’ll ever go through. But I’m also so grateful that I’m going through this experience because for me, I’ve met so many amazing people and I just feel like this has been a redirection in my life. The fitness community has been very supportive. My work’s been very supportive of just, if you need time off, take time off. My doctors are some of the best doctors. I’m at one of the top hospitals in the nation, which is Cedar-Sinai in LA, and so I’m very grateful that I live in Los Angeles. I can get that treatment.
But it’s also to say that this hasn’t made it any easier than anyone else going through treatment because a lot of times I feel like, with cancer, you learn the most from other cancer patients. And even doctors will tell you, “Oh, okay, you’re going to experience this or you won’t experience that,” and then you go into it and it’s a completely different experience than what you had hoped for. And so I think it’s really important to really lean on other people who are going through a similar experience so that you feel seen and you feel heard and you don’t feel so alone. And so I’ve created an amazing support group online, virtually, of women from all around the world who are going through this as well. But I also have the best friends and family who have been supporting me. My family came out for every chemo treatment, my friends did my cold capping, my family did my cold capping, so I’m very grateful because it literally takes a freaking village to help you get through this.
Dr. Taz: Wow. I can’t imagine. And with some of what you’ve learned, I’d be so curious as to what you would do or what you’re going to do next, so to speak. You wrote a guidebook around this whole experience, right? Tell us a little bit about that and what your intention with that is exactly.
Amanda: Yeah, I did. I did, because like I just mentioned, the doctors will tell you as much as they can, but it’s really just all about talking to other cancer patients. And I wish when I sat down and a doctor was like, “You are diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. Here is a book that’s going to tell you exactly what’s going to happen over the next four months,” and nothing is given to you. You’re just kind of going blindly into this experience. And so I started documenting everything and posting everything on TikTok, and I basically took everything that I shared and all of my experiences and the experiences of other people who I was connecting with, and I wrote it all down.
And so this guidebook is really just the ins and outs of every detail of what to expect with chemotherapy and what products to use that will help so that they don’t spend a million dollars on Amazon trying to figure out, is this going to be good? Is this going to not going to be good? And what foods you can eat and how to do cold capping and where do you get a scholarship for cold capping? And it’s just all of the most important information that I feel like should just be given to us. It’s the keys to chemo, and I just wanted to provide that for people who are going to be going through that.
Dr. Taz: What’s missed in that conversation? As a doctor, I’m always curious, there’s only so much time in an encounter to explain things and to break things down. What do you think the biggest things are that you wish you were told as you were going through the experience?
Amanda: I think side effects and also ways to feel your best during treatment. There’s no real holistic approach. I feel like with a lot of western medicine, it’s like, “Okay, well, if you don’t feel well, just take this pill or just take this,” rather than, “Okay, maybe you could try to go for a walk or maybe you could try putting citrus in your beverage to cut the metal taste,” and just little nuances of the ins and outs of how do we approach this in a way that I can optimize my health in the best way possible. My doctors were like, “You’re going to not feel well. You’re going to feel a little fatigued and nauseous, but if you do, just take these meds.”
But there’s so many other side effects that aren’t talked about, like the blood in the nose and having burning, drying sensation downstairs and just how do you deal with your hair fallout? How can you preserve your hair without having to go through the traumatic experience of losing your hair? There’s just so many things that I think if we were provided more options, we would feel better about going into chemotherapy.
Dr. Taz: Yeah, I think that’s so true. I feel like in general, I think it’s either do western medicine or do holistic medicine, but there’s no in-between path. And that’s a lot of what we do in practice too, is we’ll support people going through a journey like this with nutrients or gut support or mind/body support or trying to stay in a positive space. It’s a really tough journey. Anytime your health is taken away from you in such a dramatic way, I think there’s a lot to process and I think our system is not really equipped to help people process all of that.
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What do you hope other young women will get out of your guidebook? What are you hoping they’ll be able to walk away with?
Amanda: I feel like this guidebook, my ultimate goal was to give someone a sense of security and safety and a sense of knowing rather than just going into this experience blindly and not feeling supported. Because when you go into cancer, it’s a very lonely feeling. And yes, you might be surrounded by so many friends and family who are holding your hand, but ultimately, it’s such a personal experience. But if you read this guidebook, it’s really just my personal experience and all of the other people’s personal experiences that I have combined and put into this book. And it’s just like, “Okay, I can go into this feeling like with my head held high that I can do this. I can do this.”
And it’s also a lot of mindset shifts around cancer that I think are really, really important, because a lot of times when we go into a really hard and traumatic experience, we tend to look at experiences in a negative light rather than a positive light or trying to shift our mindset around something, and so that’s what I also wanted to put in this guidebook is how can you shift your mindset around cancer and around chemo to maybe look at this more positively rather than, “Why is this happening to me?”
Dr. Taz: I like that. You mentioned birth control in the beginning when we started talking. Have you learned more about birth control and its effects on young women as you’ve gone down this journey? Any words of wisdom to any of the women listening to the show today?
Amanda: I have talked to hundreds of women who have similar experiences like myself and people who have also been diagnosed with cancer and want to feel like they could attribute that to birth control. And I just think that the awareness is the most important because a lot of times when we get on birth control, we’re 16, 15 years old and we’re just, our number one priority is, “I don’t want to get pregnant,” and there’s no other options. It feels like in our mind there’s no other options or doctors, if you have PCOS or endometriosis, we’ll put you on that for the side effects. But there are other options and we’re just not aware of those options. So I’ve really been into cycle syncing and tracking your period and really just honing in on being more intuitive with our health and with our bodies so that we can take more control rather than just relying on this drug that we aren’t 100% sure on what the side effects are going to be 20, 30, 10 years down the line.
Dr. Taz: So in your guidebook, does it include even that stage of the hormone conversation? Because again, I have a book coming out soon and I really talk about how this conversation needs to begin at 13, 14, 15 because that’s setting the hormone foundation, and the answers are usually birth control or if you have an irregular period that’s “normal,” even normal for that age, and women then go into their twenties, still their hormones aren’t checked, not really dug into, and then you’re building on one bad foundation after another as you go through every hormone shift. So do you address some of that too as you tackle helping young women through some of these tough hormone-based illnesses?
Amanda: Yeah. I actually didn’t touch on that book, because I really just wanted to focus on chemotherapy, but I’m wanting to make this book part of a series, and so I’m going to be writing and releasing a little bit more.
Dr. Taz: Awesome.
Amanda: And people can buy them in more of a bundle rather than just the chemotherapy one.
Dr. Taz: And then what did you learn about fitness through this journey too? I went through a little bit of this. I ruptured my Achilles and my biggest stress relief was always movement, whatever form of movement I can do, and all of a sudden my favorites like yoga and Pilates and all this other stuff is taken away from me. So how were you able to adapt your body to a new movement routine, and did it reframe what you think about as effective fitness?
Amanda: Yeah. It’s so funny because it’s funny how life just comes full circle sometimes. Before I was diagnosed, I was the type of trainer that I was like, “It’s not about the movement, it’s about how you feel. It’s about feeling good. It’s about doing the things that you enjoy.” And then when cancer hit and I became the beginner student, which I’ve never been in my entire life, it completely transformed the way that I looked at movement. I’m like, “I’m now the beginner,” and so fitness can really be for so many different levels, and what used to work for years and years and years might not apply and work for you now. And so I think it’s made me a better coach because I fully have put myself in the shoes of my clients, and it’s just changed the way that I coach and that I think.
And I truly believe that movement can be medicine, and it’s just the way that you have this mental approach towards the movement that you’re actually doing and really honing in on what is my why for doing this workout? Am I working out to burn a million calories and for why? Or am I moving to feel stronger, to feel better, my body to just feel better by taking a walk around a neighborhood while I’m on chemotherapy? And is this going to make me feel better? Is that my why? So I just think my mind shift has completely changed over the last year.
Dr. Taz: I love that. Well, so much in your story and your journey, so much of what I talk about with knowing your hormones, knowing them early, staying on top of your health. And then when you do hit a health roadblock, be it cancer or any other diagnosis, what really needs to happen to help you get over that and into whatever next phase you’re supposed to be in. Because I think that any sort of illness is the body trying to talk to us to a certain extent. Like, “Hey, don’t forget about X, Y, and Z.” But I think this guidebook is going to be super helpful to women and especially for young women really helping shake them and be like, “Hey, we’re not in the same environment anymore. We’re exposed to a lot more stuff. We’re starting drugs and pharmaceuticals and chemicals so much earlier. It’s all that more important to stay on top of your health and really get things checked and understand what’s happening there.”
But thank you so much for taking time out today to share your story. If folks want to connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Amanda: Thank you so much. My Instagram is backpack_belle, and my TikTok is HiAmandaButler, and YouTube. And of course, if you want to reach out via email, it is all linked through my social.
Dr. Taz: Wonderful. Well, we appreciate it, and for everybody watching and listening to this episode of Super Woman Wellness, spread the message. We’ve got to educate younger and younger women about what’s going on with their bodies, for sure. And thank you for taking time out today to join us. We’ll see you next time.