With October being the Breast Cancer Awareness month, it is always timely to remind our loved womenfolk of the need for regular mammogram screenings for breast cancer detection. According to the Singapore Cancer Society, breast cancer remains the No.1 cancer for Singaporean women, and screening once every two years would be advisable for those aged 50 and above. Yet, about 60% of women aged 50 to 69 years are skipping theirs.
RUN Singapore recently got in touch with 48-year old sports massage therapist Cassandra Ansari Hie on her experiences being diagnosed with breast cancer, the chemotherapy treatments and the unwavering support of her son Jeremiah and daughter Jericha. Cassandra inspires us with her positivity in bouncing back and leading an even more fulfilling life now.
RUN: How long have you been running and what did running mean to you?
Cassandra: I started running in 2015 to lose post-pregnancy weight. I got hooked on it and started running longer distances and fell in love with trail running. Running becomes a passion, a comfort food for the soul. Running has taught me so much about life - determination, perseverance, resilience, endurance - it sets my motto for life: Run Free. Run Happy. Run Safe. Just enjoy the journey and don't let anything or anyone take away the joy of running.
RUN: How did you discover about your cancer condition? What went through your mind then?
Cassandra: I discovered a lump after my morning run and when it was confirmed that I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in April 2019, I had to go for a mastectomy as soon as possible. I was too shocked to absorb the reality and just could not believe what I had just heard. I had a few races planned for 2019 which included my very first stage race in Kalahari in Oct 2019.
I had started my training which included track sessions, hill training, elevation and LSD (Long Slow Distance) on weekends. So, the automatic escape plan was my upcoming races which included a mountain jungle race in Vietnam in May 2019. I had actually argued with the doctor to postpone the surgery as I needed to continue with my training to go for my races, much to her displeasure. I managed to delay the surgery, and went on to complete the 55kmVietnam Jungle Marathon in 2019.
RUN: What was the duration and frequency of the treatment? What adjustments to life did you have to make?
Cassandra: I had to go through 16 chemotherapy treatments in five months - every two weeks for the first four treatments, followed by a weekly session for the 12 treatments. It was one of the most difficult 'ultra races' that I had to go through. I had even thought of giving up halfway through the treatments.
Running helped me to push through the pain and to go through another chemotherapy session. I found that running through chemo treatments was therapeutic and helped me to manage the side effects of the chemotherapy sessions better. The endorphins that I got after each run carried me through another day. There were days that I would crash and stay in bed almost the whole day. However, I would lace up and start running again as soon as I felt better. I was also blessed to have running buddies who would run with me and kept me going during those 5 months. My two children were the pillars of my strength and they were always there for me throughout my difficult journey.
What is your medical condition now?
Cassandra: I’m doing great, better than ever!I believe I have emerged as a winner against cancer. I still have to go for my quarterly check up for the first year and so far, I am doing good.
What have you been up to recently?
Cassandra: I have gone back to work since I completed my last chemo on 16 Dec 2019. It took some time to adjust to my "New normal" life but I am glad that I am back in the swing of things. I am truly blessed that I am able to do things that I enjoy daily. I love my job; I am a Sports Massage Therapist and I love going to the clinics to treat my patients and see them getting better after each session.
I am in control of my schedule and am able to find time to run daily and clock in an average of 120km to 150km weekly mileage. Some may wonder why I am doing such long runs especially soon after my chemotherapy treatments. I do suffer joint pains and numbness on my toes from the post-chemotherapy side effects, and my body stiffens, thus limiting my range of movements.
Running makes all these pain disappear. Running makes me feel alive. Running brings me back to the person that I used to be. I do run better and stronger now because I run with my heart, mind and soul. I was looking forward to going for races this year but the pandemic has put everything on hold. So right now, I am training to do my own stage race in Dec 2020 to celebrate my first cancer-free year by covering 250km in 5 days.
What is your advice to women in regards to awareness for breast cancer?
Cassandra: Being diagnosed with breast cancer was heart-breaking. Being a cancer survivor is something that I wish I did not have to go through. Acceptance is the key. I learnt to accept it and had the courage to have a positive attitude to fight it. It is now done and dusted. And I am glad that I have pulled through and finished it strong. The chemotherapy will wreck your mind but you must tell yourself that you are stronger than you think.
Physically, you just need to keep moving and continue to do things that make you happy. Breast cancer can happen to any woman, so please remember to go for a Mammogram screening every year for early detection and treatment. For those who are currently going through the chemotherapy process, you are more than enough. Hang in there and it will be over soon. To the warriors who have survived, you know the battle isn't over till it's over, so continue to fight strong. You got this!
Inspiring words, indeed, from Cassandra. Follow her Instagram @runcassierun for her trail running adventures.