Fruit Of My Labour (No, Not The Kids)

Yesterday my friend Serene SMSed me with this message:

“Threez I’m buying the GE insurance policy that u r ‘fronting’ :)”

It made me really happy to read her message, because this was a friend who had not really thought about insurance or health checks before seeing me go through what I did. She’s in her twenties, a lovely, well-accomplished girl with a great future ahead of her. She deserves to be properly protected for any hiccups in life — nothing should stand in her way.

When I receive calls or emails or SMSes from friends and readers of this blog who are in their 20s and 30s and who have been diagnosed with breast, cervical or ovarian cancer, it crushes me. I have gotten over my initial shock that I was just 42 when I was diagnosed (I realise now, many, many women are diagnosed in their late 30s and 40s), but it still upsets me when a younger person gets the dreaded “Big C”.

I’ve been sharing with close friends about the products available out there — not because I get commission (though quite a few people have asked me to become a life planner, which makes me laugh out loud! I can’t even understand the documents!), but because if I can in some small way prevent anyone from having to go through what I did because of insufficient insurance, that would be a great reward for me.

In June, Great Eastern invited me to speak to their special group of planners who focus on families and women. The plans they promote help women to protect against health crises (not just cancer but heart disease, stroke and other common health issues), and also helps them plan for their children’s future.

Talking to Great Eastern's planners about the important role they play in helping women and families.

Catherine Ho, the lovely VP of marketing at Great Eastern, had me talk about my cancer experience and what I went through with my insurance. The core of the talk was 10 ways to handle cancer positively. I presented what I hoped was a funny yet honest account of what I experienced, and urged the planners to really get to know and understand their clients, because it is only through a real relationship that they can help these women.

Catherine Ho of Great Eastern (left) has a true passion for helping women that I greatly admire.

After the talk, I was very moved by the women and men who came up to talk to me. One lady told me, with tears in her eyes, that I was very blessed — her husband had not survived his cancer. A few asked me to explain what DCIS or Stage 0 cancer is, and why is it not always determined by the size of the tumour. They demonstrated a real desire to understand the disease — quite a number said they had clients who called them after a DCIS diagnosis, and they had no clue how to help. But after my sharing, they had a better idea.

Talking about life after cancer — major in the major stuff, like your family and kids.

Great Eastern’s Early Payout Critical Care was one of the first — if not the first to address this problem of early stage critical illness coverage. Before them, I had not heard of any other company having the cojones to insure against this — these days I am even more impressed because of the sheer number of DCIS and Stage 1 cases I come across through my blog and friends calling me. And once GE started, it seems the other insurance companies followed suit.

Serene’s not the first one to buy the EPCC plan since I started blogging and talking about it, and I hope she’s not the last. Just bridging that gap can make such a difference to a cancer patient. It’s peace of mind I would happily pay to have, if I could.

Adidas KOTR Singapore – Conquered!

Happy to see my love near the 10km mark at Mountbatten!

Truth be told, I was super nervous about the Adidas King Of The Road run last Sunday.


1. It was 16.8km long, the longest race I’d attempted. And I had not run more than 14.3km before this.

2. It was a morning run. My first. I had to wake up at 5.30am. That alone was worse than doing 200 pushups at a go.

3. I had nightmares the entire night. One of them was that Tan Jee Say won the Presidential Election.

4. My “time of the month” had been threatening to happen the past few days. I felt “Aunty Rosie” ooze through the door as I sat up to turn off my alarm clock at 5.30am.

So, all in, I woke up with about 30% confidence I was going to make it all the way to the finish line without hitching a ride in an ambulance or something.

I got down on my knees at 5.35am and prayed. There was NO WAY I was going to make it through this race without the mighty grace of God, and I needed a double measure of it! My friend Rachel had sent me an encouraging verse the night before, from Isaiah 40:

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak…
those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

I read those verses again and told myself, “Okay, at the very worst, just walk and don’t faint.”

But God is good and oh-so-worthy to be praised! The race turned out to be the best one I have experienced so far, and I even managed to run most of the way (I brisk-walked about 2.5km in total). For little old me, that’s an achievement!

I have the best husband in the WORLD. When I finally crawled downstairs, he had made a hot cup of magic Milo (his own recipe) and prepared a slice of white bread with Nutella for me.

(And he’d had a crazy night too: Saturday night/Sunday pre-dawn was the counting of the votes for the new President, and our kids Big B and Middle B stayed up till 4am watching and waiting through the recount. Yes, while their parents were fast asleep, not caring…okay, just caring enough that Tan Jee Say didn’t win.)

In the 2nd wave, waiting not-so-close to the start line this time.

When we got to Parliament House where we decided to park, we saw all the reporters staggering out of the Supreme Court, where the counting (and recounting) had happened.

Getting to the start point on Esplanade Bridge proved an adventure and a half. Many roads had been closed off for the race. When finally I managed to get to the Esplanade, it was 5 minutes to gun time. A quick kiss goodbye to my love, and I took my place. This time I was waaaay behind the start line, and had to wait about 10 minutes for the first wave of runners to clear the road.

There was a little bit of shoulder-to-shoulder action at first, as runners trickled down past One Fullerton and Collyer Quay before turning left into Marina Boulevard. But soon there was more breathing space as we trekked past the waterfront area of Marina Bay Sands.

At the top of Nicoll Highway, the U-turn at 6km. Look at them wide, wonderful roads!

It was really fun running the route, not least of all because Adidas pulled out all the stops to make it a trouble-free run. The race took us past Marina Bay Sands, down Republic Avenue and then up and down Nicoll Highway, U-turning at Mountbatten, and then again at the tunnel to Beach Road, before the final stretch through the F1 pit and down Esplanade Drive to the Padang.

The route to Beach Road, U-turning at 13km.

Not only were the roads closed off for this run (oh, SO nice not to hustle with 20 others on a narrow track!), Adidas (and organiser Hi-Velocity) was thoughtful enough to put up huge KM markers at every kilometre, and hydration points with Ice Mountain and 100 Plus every two kilometres. So any fear I had that I was going to be gasping my way to the next water point was quickly allayed.

My sweetheart Mr Threez had planned with me that he would be at the Mountbatten stretch to shoot me in action. So there he was at the corner turning into Stadium Drive with a big smile on his face, camera ready. Now THAT’s motivation to keep running 🙂 After the Mountbatten stretch he drove back to the Padang to wait for me near the Finish Line. *sweet*

It's true, I can't count.

There was such a great spirit among the runners, it was like everyone was in such a good mood. We clapped when we “met” the Closed Category frontrunner as he swept past us on the other side. We clapped for an amputee who was cheerfully running with his wife or girlfriend. We clapped for a really old uncle carrying a large plastic bag with drinks inside who moved real fast.

Great feeling running through the F1 track and pit!

The last stretch was really nice — we ran along the water next to the Esplanade and past the floating platform, before going under the Esplanade Bridge tunnel, and looping back to Connaught Drive to the Finish Line. I had set a target of 2:15 for myself, and I cleared the finish line in 2:10. I know, it’s Grandma speed but it was such a long mental journey, I wanted to finish ALIVE!

All in, an amazing race!
Apart from my thighs calling out “Some Tiger Balm here”, I felt great! My left foot, post-plantar fasciitis, was wonderful. I wasn’t aching anywhere else. It just felt wonderful.

Mr Threez was all smiles coming to greet me. “I can’t believe how fresh you looked at Mountbatten!” he grinned. I couldn’t either. Isn’t God gracious? It was exactly as Isaiah said: I ran and was not weary. I walked and did not faint. How powerful is the Word of God!

Check out the backdrop!

The Race Village at the Padang was picture perfect that morning, with multi-colored racing vests scattered across the green. Adidas even had two photo walls that finishers could pose at, and all the photos were mounted on Flickr for download by the end of this week. Mr Threez couldn’t believe I wanted a photo with the Supreme Court in the background, but hey, at least we didn’t shoot our wedding photos there … *wink*

All in, it was a great experience, this inaugural Adidas King of the Road: fab route, superb organisation, just-right weather. Definitely the best run I’ve had so far. I’d recommend Adidas KOTR 2012 highly!

I got cleaned up, pulled on a dry T-shirt and we trotted off to a fabulous breakfast at Boomerang. Yum!

Epilogue: The fastest man to finish this race did it in 51 minutes. The fastest woman did it in 1:04. Amazing! Mr Threez snorted at me checking my results. I love HiVelocity — on the evening of the Sunday run, the individual results were out on the website! Yesterday, I received a nicely designed email telling me I could check the full results. I finished at 2:10, ranking 775 out of 1878 finishers. I’m no elite athlete but I’m happy with how I did!

To me it’s a matter of meeting my own goal, and psyching myself to train for my next milestone, the Standard Chartered Half-Marathon!

Can Running Reduce Recurrence Of Breast Cancer?

Running is good for your other breast. Apologies to Pablo Picasso 🙂

I guess one of the biggest bugbears of having breast cancer is that we have TWO breasts. So if like me, you had one removed, there’s still the other one remaining. And though mine was a DCIS case and I have thankfully, a reduced risk of cancer “spreading” to my other breast, there is always the possibility of cancer happening in Breast #2.

When I started running, it was pretty accidental. But I discovered this article that made me sit up (and shout hooray): Walking Can Cut Breast Cancer Recurrence Dramatically, from Muscle Mag Fitness.Com.

The article reads: Research from The Nurses Health Study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) tracked nearly 3,000 women up to 14 years after their breast cancer diagnosis and found that cardiovascular (cardio) and aerobic exercise reduced the likelihood of breast cancer recurrence and increased the odds of living longer.”

Dr Carolyn Kaelin is a Harvard breast surgeon who is also a breast cancer survivor. She has authored the books: Living Through Breast Cancer and The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Fitness Plan.

The article quotes her saying: “Recurrence rates and deaths from breast cancer decreased by 40 percent among those who exercise at least 3-5 hours per week, compared with those who were sedentary. It does not need to be running a marathon, or biking a century, but rather simply walking briskly most days on a treadmill, at a shopping mall or around a track, that further reduces breast cancer recurrence for those who have been treated for breast cancer. For all women, in addition to physical activity helping to optimize body weight and reduce high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease, stroke and diabete, scientific research is more strongly pointing to the positive effects of cardiovascular exercise in reducing breast cancer risk and the risks of other forms of cancer, too.”

I was one of those sedentary at-risk women. I’ve had my breast cancer. Now I’m determined to make a change — and thank God He has given me the grace to start running.

Now I can really run happy!

Who Wants To “Outrun Cancer” With Me?

Recently, the church paper that I help put together has been featuring lots of people who shaved their hair in support of kids with cancer, as part of the Hair For Hope campaign. I’ve always admired the chutzpah of the ones who shave — my best friend Karen Tan the stage actress was the first personal friend I had who did it, and she never looked more beautiful to me.

I’m not precious about my hair but I think I should probably spare the world a glimpse of Bald Theresa.

Running? Now that I can do.

The Race Against Cancer happened a few weeks ago at East Coast Park. Organised by the Singapore Cancer Society, proceeds went to “various programmes, such as cancer treatment subsidy, hospice home care, welfare assistance for needy cancer patients, free cancer screenings and public education initiatives.”

Running being such a new thing for me, I totally missed that race. But I chanced upon these two upcoming runs today:

The Run For Hope website — sign up today!

The Run For Hope 2011 run on 20 November at Angsana Green, East Coast Park. This one is organized by Four Seasons Hotel and The Regent in aid of the National Cancer Centre and proceeds go to cancer research. I live in hope that before I die I will see early detection and prevention for breast and gynaecological cancers. I also hope to see effective new methods of treatment that allow a woman to keep her whole breast. I know it sounds like a wishlist but I can dream, can’t I?

There’s a 10K run and a Family Walk. And there’s a 10% discount for bulk registrations of 12 persons (come on, who’s with me? Come on…) It costs $40 per adult.

I am hoping to get friends to pledge an amount to National Cancer Centre if I run. That way, we can raise more funds towards research, and that to me is a great thing.

So leave a comment here or email me directly if you think you want to pound gravel with me for a good cause!

Terry Fox ran 5,373 km across Canada on his prosthetic leg!

Early next year there’s the Terry Fox Run 2012. Terry Fox is possibly the most famous cancer-survivor-runner in the world. At age 18 he discovered he had bone cancer in the leg. In 1977, he had to have his leg amputated. But where most humans would have stayed home and tried to live as easy and stress-free a life as possible, Fox embarked on a cross-Canada run, the Marathon of Hope, to raise awareness of cancer and a target of CAN$24 million for cancer research.

He ran the equivalent of a full marathon every day for 143 days, covering over 5,000 km on foot, before his cancer—which had spread—forced him to stop. Terry Fox died in 1981 but his Foundation lives on, as does the Terry Fox Run founded that year by the owner of Four Seasons Hotel Isadore Sharp, which is today run in over 60 countries.

This year was the 30th year of the Terry Fox Run (and I missed the run in January). I found the Terry Fox Run 2012 on Facebook and the date is Sunday January 15, 2012. Runners can choose between a 5K or 10K run. Flag off at Playground @ Big Splash is at 8am.

There’s not a whole lot of registration info available yet but you’ll know as soon as I know.

The official international Terry Fox Run date for 2012 is September 16 so I’m not sure if there’ll be another one.

Let me know what you think and if you will commit to one of these races! I hope I can gather at least 30 people who want to run and make a difference to cancer patients now and in the future!

Nip/Tuck — The Secret Of My Flat Tummy

My son took this shot of me and my new belly button on Sentosa in June.

One of the questions I get asked most is how my breasts still look “normal”.

Two answers:
1. They aren’t! My right breast is a complete reconstruction, but you can’t tell because…
2. My surgeon Andrew Khoo is a genius.

Basically Dr Khoo did a “reuse-recycle” on my body. When I had to have my breast tissue removed, he took the “spare tire” all of us moms have and made it into a new breast for me. The procedure is called a TRAM Flap and sounds horrendous, but the results really are quite marvelous.

+ breast
– tummy
= Nice silhouette!

Of course, as with any plastic surgery, it’s a bit of “false advertising”. Sans clothes, you’d see all the train tracks it took to create this new figure. So, as they say, I do look better with my clothes on.

My new flat tummy has become an object of desire of a few friends. I constantly remind them that it was gotten with much pain for many months! (But let’s face it, we women just like the end-results.)

Two weeks ago my friend S and I were talking about how to get a flat tummy. We agreed exercise was bogus — yes you get endorphins, you might get a tight tushie, even toned biceps. But can exercise get rid of that mummy-tummy— that wobbly, jiggly “smile” just under the bellybutton? No, it cannot.

Not unless you’re Gisele Bundchen who started exercising 5 minutes after her baby was born.

This is Gisele Bundchen in Vogue (April 2010) AFTER she gave birth to her son Benjamin. Sick, I know.

But for us mortals, the options are few. Fact is, most of us just have loose skin under our belly button. It’s not really that much fat. It’s the wibbly-wobbly that’s not great to look at.

S asked if liposuction was a good idea. I reminded her about the man who went in for a lunchtime lipo procedure who died that night. To me, lipo’s a little like vacuuming your mouth in the dark. There’s just too great a chance something—like a filling, or a tonsil—that’s not supposed to get sucked out, gets sucked out. Or ruptured.

I said, “Look if you’re going to do a procedure, then you may as well do a tummy tuck.”

I explained that that was basically what I had — except instead of tossing the bag of fat, my good doctor recycled it into a breast. Oh, happy me.

S put her hand out to feel my tummy. “Shoot, it really is flat…except for this part. That’s not your tummy is it?”

“That’s my vajajay, woman!” I rolled my eyes as she quickly ungroped me.

I guess my surgery had its privileges. I do enjoy my new tummy — and try my utmost to keep it looking as “pre-baby” as I can with core exercises. It’s a relief to be able to wear hipster jeans and not have to try and stuff the muffin top back under the belt!

With Dr Andrew Khoo of Mount Elizabeth Hospital — the best no-nonsense plastic surgeon on this planet!

I saw Dr Khoo in late June for my one-year follow-up. He was 80% pleased with my healing, except for a 4-inch stretch of keloid along my tummy scar, and a fold in my breast scar.

“If you want, we can fix that quite easily,” he suggested, ignoring my grimace. “I just have to do a cut here, and sew it up.”

Ugh, more cutting. More sewing. Ugh.

“Or, we could just leave it alone.”

Big smile.

Thank God for great doctors, whose hands are gifted to save lives and restore confidence to women whose body parts are claimed by cancer. I am forever grateful.

3 Weeks To Adidas King Of The Road

A blurry photo of me running up the slope in my estate, taken by my son. It's not that I'm going fast, it's that the photo is blur.

Since my last whiny post, my foot has gotten better! Plantar fasciitis is no longer the giant demon it was last week. I thank God, the prayers of my family and friends, and my physiotherapist’s sage advice:
• “wear your trainers, you vainpot”
• “walk straight, don’t try to avoid the pain”
• “ice your foot”
• “take a pill for inflammation”

It’s time to strap on the running shoes and go.

It has been two weeks since I ran the Marina Bay run and my body is beginning to sound like its old, pre-running self:
• “Are you sure you’re okay enough to run?”
• “Your legs are really going to ache.”
• “You’re outta shape, babe.”
• “You’ll never make it up the hill.”

This is why runners say that running really is a mental sport. First, you’re mental for running so many kilometres when you could drive, and second, it takes extreme mental strength to keep going.

Often, the run begins to feel tedious and boring sooner than your body starts to feel tired. So the mind needs as much training – if not more – than the body, for any long-distance run.

“As a (wo)man thinks, so is (s)he,” says my favourite book.

Men's category still open for signups! Closing Monday 8 August, if you're keen!
I have exactly 3 weeks to the Adidas King Of The Road race on 28 August. I signed up right after the Marina Bay run, thinking “Okay I’ve done 10km, and I need to accomplish 21K at the Standard Chartered Half Marathon this year end, so… 16.8km sounds like a good mid-point to aim for.”

Crazy, I know. I really am mental. Especially since, after I put down my 50 bucks for KOTR, my foot became The Hulk.

I heard about this race from my friend and colleague Phoebe, whose husband, a phys-ed teacher, is running it. The KOTR is an 84K race split up across 5 cities in Southeast Asia: Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Each leg is 16.8K. I thought I heard Phoebe say she was running it, but when I bumped into her husband at church, he set me straight. He was running. Phoebe was cheering.

“It’s an okay distance,” he said, comfortingly. “I don’t want to kill myself with a full marathon! Killed myself enough in the army!”

It seemed strange to me hearing that, but I realised after a couple of days that, if you are forced to run (as opposed to being a sucker for punishment like me or my husband) your enthusiasm for running might be severely curbed.

I digress.

So I now have to get from 10K to 16.8K. Except I haven’t run for 2 weeks, which means, in truth, I have to get from 0K to 16.8K in 3 weeks. I have no idea how this is going to happen, but I sure am praying that my mind can follow my heart, and my legs can follow my mind, and angels can follow me and push me from behind.

There, but for the grace of God, run I.