Most people will be badly affected if they are diagnosed with a serious disease like cancer but all Cassandra Hie, 47, could think of when her doctor broke the news was 'But I have races to go to this year!' much to the displeasure of her doctor.
Cassandra, a Sports Massage Therapist, started running back in 2015 to lose her post-pregnancy weight but ended up as an avid runner. She was supposed to go big on running in 2019 and was invited to participate in a stage race in Kalahari in October 2019.
Cassandra (second from right) still went running with her buddies two weeks before the surgery. Photo: Cassandra Hie
She had started on a training plan in January 2019 where she did track sessions, hill training, LSD (Long Slow Distance) and elevation training. On top of that, she also did yoga three times a week, as well as swimming once a week as part of her fitness routine. By March 2019, she was running faster and better. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan and she was struck down with Shingles in mid-March and diagnosed with cancer the following month.
Cassandra shared: “I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and had to go for a mastectomy as soon as possible. I guess I was too shocked to absorb the reality and just could not believe what I had just heard. So, the automatic escape plan was my upcoming races which included a mountain jungle race in Vietnam. I actually argued with the doctor to postpone the surgery as I needed to continue with my training to go for my races.”
Eventually, she managed to delay the surgery for a month and was advised to put on some weight for the reconstruction procedure. During the month before the surgery, she decided to continue running daily as she was not sure how long she would need to rest after the surgery and she also wanted to run while she was still able to.
Cassandra (bib number 2478) took part in a 23km trail race in the midst of her chemotherapy treatments and completed the race. Photo: Cassandra Hie
“I was blessed with running buddies who took turns to run with me till the last day before the surgery. I was also eating well to gain some weight. I tried not to be bogged down by thinking too much and keeping myself positive and active,” recalled Cassandra.
The surgery was just the beginning. Having to go through 16 chemotherapy treatments in five months thereafter was a very difficult journey for Cassandra, so much so that she did think of giving up midway through.
According to Cassandra, running helped her to push through the pain and to go through another chemo session. She found that running was therapeutic and helped her to manage the side effects of the chemo sessions better. The endorphins that she got after each run carried her through another day.
Of course, there were times when her body crashed and she would stay in bed almost the entire day. However, she would lace up and start running again as soon as she felt better. Such was her spirit of not giving up and not succumbing to her illness.
Her children were her pillars of strength throughout the difficult period. Photo: Cassandra Hie
When asked what the biggest challenge was during this difficult period, Cassandra said: “I would say the biggest challenge was to keep calm and tell my body not to give up. There were days when I woke up in pain with swollen and bruised feet that I could not fit any of my running shoes. I was still determined to keep moving so I bought running sandals. I kept on telling myself that I wanted to run while I still can because I wouldn’t know what would happen the next day. The chemo treatments also messed up my mind and I had to keep on telling myself that I needed to finish this ‘ultra race’.”
For those of us who are concerned whether she should be running in between chemo sessions, Cassandra assured us that her oncologist was aware and that her doctor gave the green light for her to run as long as ‘she takes her runs easy and listens to her body’.
Cassandra (second from left) took part in a team relay ultra race (35km) two weeks after she completed the chemotherapy sessions. Photo: Cassandra Hie
Cassandra had this piece of advice for folks who are battling cancer: “Being diagnosed with cancer was heart-breaking. Being a cancer survivor is something that I wish I did not have to go through. It is now done and dusted; and I’m glad that I have pulled through and finished it strong. The chemotherapy will wreck your mind but you must tell yourself that you’re stronger than you think. Physically, you just need to keep moving and continue to do things that make you happy.”
In short, just keep calm and go for a run.
Gary Yang is a myActiveSG Editor and Presenter. Gary started his career as a suit cum copywriter at an advertising agency, followed by a successful stint in Corporate Communications with Singapore Press Holdings and Asia Pacific Breweries, before eventually joining the editorial team at Sport Singapore. He now turns his attention to fitness and wellness headlines and sniffing out news angles in the sporting arena. Follow Gary on Instagram @thisisgaryyang