‘Younger’ and fitter after cancer

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 21, 2013

What do you do to keep fit?

Since my cancer diagnosis, I have been more active.

I go to the gym at least three mornings a week, spending between 40 minutes and an hour there. Once a week, I join a Body Combat class, which combines moves from self-defence disciplines such as karate, boxing and taekwondo.

Twice a week, I run on the treadmill and do core-building exercises (planks, side planks and crunches) and stretching.

I run about 7.5km at least twice a week. I run three times a week if I am preparing for a race. I started racing between 5 and 21km in 2011. Last year, I ran 114km over 11 races.

Has there been a time when you were not fit and fabulous?

For most of my life. I was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 13 and was forced to stop all sports and rigorous activities. It broke my heart to have to give up being part of the National Cadet Corps.

When my spinal curvature was deemed to have stabilised, I did a little bit of aerobics. While we were dating, my then-boyfriend who is now my husband signed me up for a 10km run. It was the worst experience of my life and I told myself I would never run again.

I started exercising again after my cancer treatment because my body was in such pain. My plastic surgeon and physiotherapist suggested I start getting my blood circulating again, after about a month in bed.

The first attempt to walk nearly killed me, but as the weeks passed, I could stand straighter and colour started coming back to my cheeks.

What is your diet like?

I wish I could say I transformed my diet after cancer, but I did not.

However, I do now watch my intake of certain types of food. I have reduced my dairy consumption, as milk has been tied to active hormones that could trigger breast cancer. I have also reduced my intake of red meat.

I have cut my coffee consumption to two cups a day, which is a feat akin to lifting a mountain.

I include more salads and oily fish in my diet. I take multi-vitamins daily.

What are your indulgences?

Oddly, I have relearnt how to "indulge" since I got cancer.

Before cancer, I worked a lot. After cancer, I still work hard, but I now draw the line at too much work.

Family as a priority has become real for me, and not just a cliche. I enjoy moments with my children, being aware of them and being conscious of chronicling their lives.

For me, that used to be indulgent but it has now become necessary.

How do you relax and maintain a healthy work-life balance?

I work about 40 hours a week. I spend the first half of the day at church, working on its newspaper.

I usually get home by 1.30pm, in time to meet my daughters when they arrive home on the school bus. We have lunch, then we work on their homework.

In the evening, I sneak in an hour or two of work for my writing agency.

But I make sure I have time to relax every day. The time I spend with my loved ones is sacred.

I read with my youngest child at night before she sleeps, I listen to music and laugh over silly things with my middle one, and I watch TV shows such as Sherlock with my eldest.

After prayers with the children, I like to sit in bed with my husband, watching TV and eating fruit.

I find running relaxing too. It helps me find my balance when I have been sitting down at the computer too much. It also clears my head.

What are the three most important things in your life?

God, family and living a life that counts.

What is your secret to looking fabulous?

I did not feel fabulous at all for a long time. I did lose a lot of weight after the surgery, so that helped.

For nine months to a year after that, the right side of my body was swollen and retained fluids.Physically, the sensations on that side are only 50 to 65 per cent of what they were.

My nipple scar was very unsightly and I was terribly conscious of it under clothing. I wore loose-fitting clothes.

I started getting my groove back only after about two years. My body began to feel and move morenormally.

I have been told I look younger now than I did before cancer. I attribute it to less stress, more laughter and lots of exercise.

Why was the breast reconstructive surgery important for you?

I would not go for plastic surgery ordinarily. I have always thought it was an unnecessary source of pain.

But my reconstructive surgery was important to me. Without it, my body shape would be completely and permanently altered. I am grateful to God for my plastic surgeon, who did such an amazing job with my reconstruction.

Do you think you are sexy?

I can tell you I definitely did not feel sexy after surgery. Sex is an important key to recovery after surgery like mine.

I have heard from other patients that their husbands did not want to be intimate with them, for fear of hurting them or messing with their scar or, in some cases, because their husbands could not get used to seeing them without a nipple.

I love my husband for the fact that he knew I needed to feel loved and even desirable again, and he always made me feel sexy. He still does.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 21, 2013

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