Cycling to keep cancer at bay

He rides twice a week and up to 50km each time, both alone and with former JC mates

Mehar Mukesh Muni, who is making his maiden foray into the OCBC Cycle, says the sport lets him explore the island, among other things.
Mehar Mukesh Muni, who is making his maiden foray into the OCBC Cycle, says the sport lets him explore the island, among other things.ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

Mehar Mukesh Muni used to be an avid runner. A former army regular, he would clock at least 5km each session, twice a week along East Coast Park.

But gradually, the 51-year-old found his knees getting worn out due to the constant impact of running, experiencing knee pain whenever he attempted to increase the frequency of his runs in a week to meet his fitness and weight-loss goals.

He said: "It was a whole chain of events that (made exercising) actually quite discouraging."

But Mukesh was determined to continue as he is a cancer survivor.

In February 2016, he was diagnosed with Stage 3 nasopharyngeal cancer, or nose cancer. He had to undergo six sessions of chemotherapy over six weeks, and eight weeks of daily radiotherapy, which took a toll on his immune system.

Towards the second half of the treatment, he had lost the ability to salivate or taste, and had to rely on nutrition supplement drinks - usually given to the elderly who have problems eating solid food - for meals.

He said: "I was nauseated all the time, and could not eat the things that I enjoyed, or the food that I enjoyed did not even taste the same. At that point in time, sugar tasted metallic to me."

His oncologist recommended that he exercise regularly, telling him that would reduce the probability of cancer cells coming back by 20 per cent. With his former junior college schoolmates, who are regular riders, encouraging him to explore cycling as an alternative form of exercise, he decided to buy a bike in November last year and try it out.

He has not looked back since.

"When I first started out, it would take me a total of five hours to travel from Tanah Merah to Changi Village, a journey that would take me only about 90 minutes now… In a sense I think that I have really come far," recounted Mukesh.

Now on average, he cycles twice a week and up to at least 50km each time. He usually cycles alone, but meets his JC mates to ride once every fortnight.

In January, after his last positron emission tomography (PET) scan, when his doctors gave him the all-clear, Mukesh celebrated by going on a 103km ride from Siglap to Tuas Lamp Post 1, an iconic pit stop for cyclists to mark their venture to the westernmost part of Singapore. It took him five hours.

Eager to recreate the same experience, he has signed up for the OCBC Cycle's 100km virtual ride and hopes to complete it in two sessions.

For this year's OCBC Cycle, mass participation rides remain virtual. There are two new categories - the 100km and 200km virtual rides after participants gave feedback that they wanted to cover longer distances. Other categories include The Straits Times Virtual Ride (23km), The Sportive Virtual Ride (42km) and the Mighty Savers Kids Virtual Ride (5km).

For the virtual races, participants must complete the required distance in four rides or less from May 15 to June 13.

Mukesh, who will take part in the OCBC Cycle for the first time, said that cycling has given him the opportunity to explore different routes in Singapore and at the same time allowed him to achieve bigger personal milestones in his cycling journey.

He added: "For cancer survivors, the next phase of being in remission is that you feel happy but also fearful. You find yourself praying to pass half-yearly checks, and when you do, it feels like you have 'bought another year's extension' of your life.

"Cycling has enabled me to keep healthy and ensure that I would still be here to support my family. If I did not have cycling, I may still be running, but I would think that I will not be as healthy as I think that I am now. I am grateful that cycling has allowed me to mark this individual journey and battle that I went through."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2021, with the headline 'Cycling to keep cancer at bay'. Subscribe