IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

On the fast track to recovery

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 27, 2013

TWO years ago, Jacqueline Teo went from a sprightly ultra-marathoner to one who could barely complete a 400m jog.

Stricken with stage-three nose cancer, even the simple chore of sipping water became a pain, as over 20 ulcers formed in her mouth all at once - the result of radiotherapy treatment.

Now into the second year of cancer remission, a revitalised Teo - who works at a statutory board - will run in next week's Sundown Marathon, her third full marathon since being diagnosed with two tumours in her head in October 2010.

It was all too different during those painful times, as a depressed Teo, who was in her early 30s, refused to leave her room for days, penning a new suicide note each day as her weight dipped from 46kg to 37kg.

She said: "Running was my main passion and that was taken away from me. I thought it was easier to kill myself."

It took motherly love to shake her forcefully out of her gloom, as her mother Lilian dragged her out of bed and onto a running track near their East Coast home.

"She said, 'I don't care if you walk, run or jog, just go and find yourself again.' It was a turning point in my life," Teo recalled.

"She was my Florence Nightingale, picking me up when I was down and out."

Slowly but surely, Teo's life got back on track, and she could run further with each passing day. As the disease abated with treatment, her stamina improved, along with her outlook on life.

Just over six months after her mum's timely intervention, she completed the 21km Standard Chartered half-marathon, before going the full 42km last year with a creditable time of 4hr 11 min.

There is a 70 per cent chance of the cancer recurring, which is never far from her mind.

She said: "During my quarterly check-ups when the doctor puts a scope down my nose, I have the greatest fear that he'll say, 'It's back'.

"Sometimes I make plans, like whether to buy a house, then wonder, 'In five years, will I still be around?'"

But, as the bubbly fitness enthusiast aptly puts it: "Why sit and wait for the durian to drop?"

Teo, who is single, runs six times a week at her office gym or at East Coast Park.

Now weighing 42kg, she noted proudly that she has regained roughly 80 per cent of her peak fitness.

However, she can no longer swim or cycle under the sun, owing to an increased photo-sensitivity, a side-effect of her treatment.

Her night visibility has also been affected, causing her family and friends to fret over her attempt at the evening Sundown race.

Still, there is no talking her out of the attempt, as she wants to dedicate the race to those who stood by her during the darkest hours.

She said: "The reason I insisted (to race) is to prove to myself and others that nothing can stop me.

"Just because I can't see clearly doesn't mean I can't take part - every run is a bonus as it could be my last."

This fearless attitude already has Teo targeting a 100km ultramarathon in the near future.

"My mum says I must be ultra-crazy to attempt that," she said with a laugh.

"She dragged me out of bed before. Now, she might have to drag me away from the track."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 27, 2013

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