A well functioning lymphatic system is so vital in maintaining…
Cancer Changed My Life Forever
October is international Pink month which raises awareness of the fight against breast cancer. Breast health advocate and jumping fitness instructor Irene Kang shares from her heart about her battle with cancer ten years ago and how that brush with death turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Irene is a stage 3A breast cancer survivor. In an interview with Gen X Singapore last Tuesday, the mum-of-2 told how cancer changed her life in so many ways, from how she thinks to how she approaches her future. Showing off her incredibly toned physique in flattering pink sports attire, Irene recalled that she “suffered a lot physically and mentally” throughout the cancer ordeal, from diagnosis to treatments and beyond.
The Disorientating Start Of My Cancer Journey
Reality hit home hard for Irene when the doctor first confirmed that she had breast cancer. “I was sitting there crying and crying and crying nonstop. I felt very sorry for myself at that time. I felt lost as well. But in my mind, I knew that despite all these, I could get through it.” Things happened so quickly after that as she scrambled to prepare for the prescribed treatments. It was very emotionally draining to complete hospital documents, apply for leave and handover duties, shop for scarves, hats, and fake hair, and get help to care for her 8-year-old twins. Finally, she opted for mastectomy and reconstruction and underwent an 8-hour surgery. The surgeon also removed 15 lymph nodes, of which 12 were cancerous.
“When I woke up, things were different. I felt different, but I was still very determined to pull through at the beginning.”
The first chemotherapy cycle was one month after surgery. It was pretty ok. However, after the second cycle, Irene felt she could not take it anymore. Her insides were feeling horrible.
“I even tried to bring my kids to school at that time with the helper, but I was breathless, even just walking, because chemotherapy has an impact on the heart as well.” It got worse in the third cycle because the drug became even more potent.
“I lost my hair after the third cycle, and I accepted it because I realized it was part of the process.” However, she became very fearful about the fourth cycle to the extent that she refused the subsequent treatment. It was her family that encouraged her to persevere and continue.
“Every time I sat on the chair and the chemo started to drip, I had this fear that I could not make it home.”
Irene survived the fourth cycle, but chemotherapy had taken a toll on her immunity, energy, and emotions. As a result, she plunged into a deep depression. Her family brought her to consult a psychiatrist in NUH, who diagnosed her as having “adjustment disorder.” It simply refers to the condition whereby the patient is unable to accept life changes. The side effects of the psychiatric medication were very unpleasant, and prolonged use became unbearable.
Irene’s depression lasted many months. Extreme physical weakness, constant pain, and emotional turmoil marked this dark period of her life. But, eventually, her faith and the support of church friends provided the comfort and strength she needed to finish her two years post-diagnosis and cancer treatment. In total, she completed 40 chemotherapy and 18 radiotherapy cycles.
Spiritual Healing Leads to Physical and Mental Healing
In January 2014, Irene noticed that she had become physically stronger as she nurtured her inner spiritual condition through prayer and Christian fellowship. She had begun dancing classes organized by the Singapore Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF). All this time, she was also gradually changing her lifestyle, discarding destructive habits and adopting healthy ones along the way.
Irene tells her story to encourage women who might be battling breast cancer right now. Cancer is not just a medical diagnosis. It is a life-scarring experience with effects such as uncertainty, isolation, fatigue, crushing anxiety, and hormonal issues. Irene is grateful that she has been able to walk out of cancer, in complete remission, spiritually, emotionally, and physically transformed. While Irene may not be able to hold the hand of someone newly diagnosed or in treatment, she would like to share some wisdom from her personal experience to help the patient better cope with cancer and even overcome it.
1) Nourish Your Spirit With Love
Cancer is NOT a punishment from the Universe because you are not good enough. It is us getting into trouble like how we often do just living our daily existence. It is part of being human. Having cancer impelled Irene to turn to God for help and connect with that divine love that restored her soul. It was also time to receive friendship and consolation from friends and family.
The cancer patient needs spiritual support. Reach out to your family and friends, a hospital chaplain, or other religious leaders. The Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) also supports breast cancer patients through various programs, support groups, and befriending activities. The human spirit can overcome all odds. Look inside yourself, nourish that inner person with faith and fulfilling relationships. As a wise sage once said, “The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, But who can bear a broken spirit?” Proverbs 18:14
2) Nourish Your Body With Nutrition
Nutrition provides our body with the raw materials for healing and repair. Our human body has the innate ability to defend itself, fight invaders, destroy cancer cells, and restore its state of health. To aid our body to heal and regenerate, we need to consistently and conscientiously consume only healthy, natural, nutrient-dense foods. Research shows that a diet filled with various vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, eggs, and other plant foods helps lower the risk for many cancers. Irene prepares her food most of the time to support her active lifestyle. She steers clear of processed foods that are often laden with carcinogenic ingredients.
3) Adopt An Exercise Regime And Stick To It
Exercise is so important in cancer prevention and recovery. Being overweight also puts a woman at risk of breast cancer. Regular and appropriate exercise such as jumping fitness helps maintain optimal body weight, strengthens the heart, and oxygenates the body by improving blood circulation. Irene recommends jumping fitness because, unlike other fitness programs, it also enhances lymphatic circulation to effectively remove the buildup of toxins.
“I was upgraded from stage 2 to stage 3 breast cancer because it spread to my lymphatic system. The surgeon contained it by removing 15 lymph nodes and other cancerous breast tissues. Jumping fitness enhances lymphatic drainage, and as a breast cancer survivor, it became obvious that it is the appropriate fitness program for me.”
“One other key benefit of jumping fitness is that it has less impact on the knees. I feel it is important to protect my knees at my age.” During the COVID pandemic, Irene ran a lot, and her knees and feet would start to hurt after about an hour of running. Comparatively, she could do 3 hours of back-to-back jumping fitness classes without any knee pain. Jumping fitness provides all the benefits of aerobic exercise without damaging vulnerable joints and knees.
4) Manage Stress
The ravaging scourge of cancer caused Irene to shift her priorities and give up her 20-year, highly successful but stressful banking career. It was a radical move, but she decided that it would be good to live life at a slower pace and focus on building her health and fitness. Being a fitness instructor not only helps her physical and mental wellbeing, but it also provides the opportunity to help others achieve the same.
Recent studies have shown that chronic stress can promote cancer development. Managing stressful situations and relationships is vital in maintaining optimal health. Stress-relieving hobbies such as gardening and exercise help us to relax and wind down after a busy day at work. Jumping fitness and other high-intensity group exercises also help the body to produce endorphins, also known as “happy” hormones, to induce a sense of wellbeing. When the stress is dissipated, we are in a better frame of mind to work on our challenges and overcome them.
The two-year battle with breast cancer was an excruciating period of her life. Still, Irene is grateful for it because it brought her spiritually, mentally, and physically to where she is today. She is never fitter, healthier, happier, and at peace with herself and God. She finds her calling in helping women become better versions of themselves through sports and fitness.
Jumping Singapore supports women’s health. If you like to join a jumping fitness class, please download our app, Jumping Singapore, or visit our web portal, to view our class schedule and make a reservation.
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