by Champa Ha
It’s a little hard to have a frank talk about illness. Contrary to how your aunties at house parties would quote entire sagas about their perceived health, talking about your feelings when facing a possibly terminal sickness is tough. Many want to talk about the happier things, the after. Never about the journey to get there.
However, Anne Ang is someone who has gone through the journey to be where she is today. Working together with her husband on their business, she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2012. That simple factor changed her, not only on her outlook on life but also on her exercise habits and health.
In this interview, she tells us about how the experience has shaped her current outlook on life.
What was your exercise regime like before you were diagnosed?
Before my diagnosis, I exercised once a week doing tennis or yoga.
How did you react when you first heard about your diagnosis?
I was shocked because nobody in my family has a history of cancer. A lot of things were in my mind then. My kids were young; my daughter was in Primary 1 and my son was sitting for his PSLE while I was in the hospital having my surgery. The other issue that crossed my mind was, “How long am I going to live? Can I survive the next 5 years?”
What is your status now?
I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer and had a left breast mastectomy and all the lymph nodes on the left were also removed. This year is my 5th year into remission and still on medication. I am seeing my breast doctor and my oncologist regularly for follow-ups.
How did you get involved in dragon boat paddling?
I got to know about the Breast Cancer Foundation’s Paddlers in the Pink dragon boat team during one of the support group meetings. I was hesitant initially because I know that it is a strenuous exercise. But when I see the other team members who are older than me actively paddling, I told myself that I should give it a try. If they can do it, there is no reason that I can’t. The ladies were such an inspiration to me then.
One of the reasons that I took up dragon boat paddling is because it is a very good form of exercise for people who have removed their lymph nodes due to breast cancer. I had all 24 lymph nodes on my left side removed during my surgery and I was having a mild case of lymphedema. I had to go for 3-4 months of physiotherapy to treat this condition. Paddlers in the Pink Team captain Irene Chui shared with me that research has showed that the repetitive movements of the arm can help to reduce the risk of developing lymphedema. Now, with regular exercise, I do not have any more symptoms of lymphedema.
What motivated you to start running as a sport?
My team captain Irene and then vice-captain, Rietta, encouraged me to join them for a 5km fun run and subsequently invited me to more runs.
I was worried initially because I had not taken part in any running event before. But I decided to take the first step in signing-up and ran with them starting at 5km.
The other motivation to start running was that I wanted to keep myself fit after cancer. Running is a sport that you do not need to spend a lot of money on and you can do it by yourself anytime, anywhere.
How many times have you participated in the Pink Ribbon Walk and what does the walk’s significance hold for you?
I was not aware of Pink Ribbon Walk until I had cancer and came to the Breast Cancer Foundation. This is now my fifth time participating in the walk. To me, I feel that the walk signifies that you are not alone in your fight with breast cancer. You are walking together with your family, your friends, other breast cancer survivors and even strangers!
I have met strangers coming up to us taking photos and giving us words of encouragement. I also have friends who signed up for the walk just to support us. You don’t feel alone as you know that you have support during your battle with cancer and that is very important.
As I am in BCF’s Paddlers in the Pink dragon boat team, we also support the annual Pink Ribbon Walk through performances such as Zumba sessions and the paddle salute to show others that we can continue to live an active life after breast cancer.
How often do you run a week now?
When there is an upcoming dragon boat race, I run almost every day and rest on Sundays. On regular weeks, I run about three times a week.
How has running helped you in your development as a person?
Running is an endurance exercise that has helped me to push myself further. I started with 5km and now I am quite comfortable at 10km. My next challenge will be 15km or 18km. Running has also made me more disciplined.
How has running helped you bond with your family?
My husband signs up for events together with me and our 17-year old son. Running has helped me bond with my family when we spend time running together and having breakfast after.
How would you advise readers to support the Breast Cancer Foundation and their activities?
Do come and join us in Pink Ribbon Walk on 7th October. Encourage your family and friends to join in as well as this is for everybody, both young and old. It is a good way to spend time bonding as a family during the walk. There will also be a new 5km run component this year in celebration of BCF’s 20th anniversary!
You may also support Breast Cancer Foundation by being a volunteer or making a donation.
The Pink Ribbon Walk is happening on the 7th of October. To sign up, go here.