Ask yourself this: What is your biggest fear? Falling off a bicycle? Performing bungee jumping? Speaking in the public? Sleeping in the dark? Getting diagnosed with cancer?
To Renee Aziz Ahmad, it would be the latter. Cancer is a scary word. Truth is, it is even more frightening in reality than the word can convey. Renee, whom we speak to, found out something oddly on her body, took on the fact that she was diagnosed with a breast cancer, went through the medication and treatment, and now is living her life to the fullest by staying an active lifestyle.
She braces a new way to gauge the power of the word – cancer. A cheerful, easy-going, outspoken, and most particularly, an optimistic lady in her late 50s tells us her perspective and experience throughout the journey.
Accepting and understanding cancer
“The original diagnosis was quite some time ago, back in 2001, I came back from a dive trip. Looking at the mirror, I found out something that looked different on my left breast. Taking a closer inspection, it was a lump,” Renee recalled.
Instantly, she went to the hospital the next day, did a physical examination, mammogram, ultrasound and confirmed it was a lump. The next thing she knew she had to visit a surgeon to do a biopsy and unfortunately, it was a breast cancer.
At that time, Renee was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. It must be difficult for her to undergo mastectomy, even more, to dwell on the fact that she has to live with one breast. Neither Renee did undergo reconstruction nor use breast prostheses, but she dealt with the misery quite well. “I managed to let my family know what’s going on, but it’s always not easy,” said Renee.
“When you hear the word, you get really scared. It was disbelief, shock, and a whole mixture of different emotions. But I was really lucky to have good support from family, friends, and colleagues at work,”
In spite of hell and high water, she went through 8 cycles of chemotherapy as well as radiotherapy. Having felt fairly miserable for a while, life came back slightly normal. Recently, cancer has progressed and she is now a stage 4 and living middle standard breast cancer.
Physically, she has some cancer cells that are detectable in her body but they haven’t reached a level where they form tumors. So it is still manageable and under control with hormone therapy.
Getting into running
Funnily, she never sees herself as a runner. “Physically, as everyone can see, I do not look like a runner. It’s because of this group of friends of mine I go hiking and running with,” said Renee.
Since the year 2010, Renee has joined Standard Chartered KL Marathon, Penang Bridge International Marathon (PBIM), and several trail run events. “My first 10km run was okay. After doing a few more, I thought I should try a half marathon,” Renee’s first half marathon was PBIM and according to her, it was terrible which took her 4 hours to complete.
“I felt so sick but I had a very good friend to run with me. Despite being a faster runner, she helped me to get over the nauseous feeling till the end. That’s one of the things about the running community. They are the helpful people,” said the determined runner.
Perceiving life the way it is
Renee started running not because of her diagnosis, but it was her perception towards life. “As long as I can still dive, run, and I feel alive,” To the cancer survivor, that is life should be about. Life is not about just existing or waiting for the end to come. Life, however, is enjoying every bit and piece.
Two years ago, when her cancer started to show a signal that it’s coming back again, she abruptly felt that work has taken up a lot of her personal time. “I felt that my time kept running out, so I decided to resign from my job taking early retirement from PLUS,” The former employee of PLUS did not want to be regretful for not doing many of the things she would like to do because of her work.
Preparing for debut full marathon
Having had a number of running experiences, Renee decided to attempt a full marathon.
One of the girls from Renee’s running group suggested Sydney Running Festival plainly because running a full marathon in Malaysia is simply not ideal as the weather could be very hot. On top of that, running events in Malaysia usually flag off as early as 2 to 3 in the morning. On the other hand, the climate is much cooler running in overseas, and not having to start running early is just reasonable.
When Renee signed up for Sydney Running Festival, she did not offer to raise fund for charity straight away. In fact, she was scared for not getting adequately trained.
Again I thought, it doesn’t hurt to do a little bit more to help the organization. When people started donating, the charity organization contacted me and found out I am also a breast cancer survivor,
I hope that by telling and sharing my stories to people in Australia, they will also help the charity organization because in Malaysia, there’re a few organizations such as National Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Welfare Association, Breast Cancer Foundation Malaysia (BCF) and are very active in helping the community. When someone is down, they are there to bring you up,
“We need to give awareness to people that organizations like such exist here too. They do not just give financial support, but all kinds of support,”
Creating positive energy
Although the medications that Renee has been taking tend to give her weight gain, in overall, her body does not affect her running too much. She could have gained weight partly because when she’s feeling down, she tends to eat more or eat the wrong food. “I can’t blame cancer, everything I have to take responsibility for my own lifestyle behaviors.”
She does not have a typical athlete’s body. Apart from this, she does get some joint pain because of the medications. “The circulation is not so good. My hand, feet, and toe get a bit numb and painful. So I try to make my run as low impact as possible,”
Renee always aims to see improvement in her own timing, so she doesn’t race among the people.
“It’s hard being the slowest runner among my friends. But it’s part of puzzles of life, learning to deal with your situation. You shouldn’t hold other people. Whether you are a faster or slower runner, as long as the fact that you’re out there trying,”
Nobody wants, in life at all, to be helpless that other people have to do everything for you. By hiking and running, Renee gains self-confidence and self-esteem.
To prepare for the first full marathon in Sydney, Renee’s game plan includes a 30km to 35km long run once a week. Before the actual date in Sydney, she will be doing another two long runs, including a half marathon at Kuching Marathon.
I have also signed up The Running Plan for a 6-week program consisting of 6 lessons, and it was helpful,
Renee combines different types of running workouts that she accumulates at least 30km a week. Apart from interval run, long run, and tempo run, the program also combines some strength training and focuses on hill sprints. Since it’ll be her first full marathon, she does want to worry too much about her timing but keeps the training fairly simple.
Earning finisher medals could be a motivation, however, to Renee, is a memento. “It is nice to keep and recollect the bittersweet memories, notwithstanding, she is glad to be active again.
Reinvigorating hiking spirit
Before the first cancer diagnosis, in the year 2000, Renee climbed Mount Kinabalu. It was also because it’s a new millennium, Renee thought she should do something special with her friends. Sadly, the hike was immensely hard that she decided not to do it again.
Later after the diagnosis, she became very depressed so one of her colleagues asked if she would like to hike Mount Kilimanjaro, South Africa. Having reflected on her body figure size, she decided to take the challenge to hike the highest mountain in Africa. Through hiking, she has improved in term of her general health and overcame all those effects from having been through chemotherapy. From there, it gave her confidence.
I can climb a mountain, meaning that I can beat cancer, and everything I want to do with my life,
Adding meaning to life
Through running and hiking, you can tell people, cancer is not the end of the world. If you find out early, your prognosis can be really good.
After that, Renee approached BCF to organize a hiking adventure to South Africa. Those were big and challenging hikes. From there, she attained media attention, invitations to give talks.
I was delighted to be able to share my experience to not only women, but the husbands and sons also need to know.
These are the things that she’s trying to do – giving assurance to cancer patients and encouraging them to not give up.
“I don’t discount other people’s experience, there’re always people using the alternative medicines. Personally, I follow the doctor’s advice and opt for the medical paths,”
To Renee, chemotherapy is undoubtedly hard but is durable. It is something you can get through. It’s not easy, but once you’re done, life can gradually go back to normal.
It is not the end, you have to resilient all the time. You just have to keep positive, trust in your doctor, and know that there’re many stages that you will pass through before you reach the end. And that’s not true for all cancer patients, but for all of us.
Even if you’re completely healthy, you still pass through stages, from baby, child, teenager, adult to old people. Therefore, we need to try our best to embrace it all.
Renee has accepted the fact that she is still able to hike and run wholeheartedly and to be able to keep motivated all the time, she is thankful for having her supportive friends.
After going through the thick and thin of life, Renee has learned to always believe that everyone has a better chance of having a good quality of life. Even though her fight against cancer is not over yet, there are still a lot of things to beat, as long as she can.
“I still visit my doctor every month, do my blood test, and stay positive. I like my doctor to tell me the real situation, but not to tell me the world is wonderful when it is not,” Renee spoke.
To describe Renee in one word, it should be the “warrior”! A warrior who is not easily defeated and is relentlessly finding a way to resist.
In the midst of battling cancer and running for personal bests, Renee told us, “No matter what life brings, keep that positive lifestyle!”
About The Blackmores Sydney Running Festival 2018
It will be held on Sunday 16 September 2018 with more than 33,000 entrants expected to run the scenic courses and across the world famous Sydney Harbour Bridge – traffic free.
The Blackmores Sydney Marathon, Blackmores Half Marathon and the Blackmores Bridge Run, now in its second year as a 10km event, finish at the iconic Sydney Opera House.
Supported by the NSW Government via its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW, the flagship event of the festival – the Blackmores Sydney Marathon is officially recognised as a world leader in marathons having being awarded a Gold Label by the International Association of Athletics Federations.