Beating breast cancer inspired me to become a cancer coach. Now, I’m in the best shape of my life.
In 2006, my life changed dramatically with three words: you have cancer. I was 32. My career in the media was riding high. I’d just returned from my honeymoon and we were planning to start a family.
Five years before my diagnosis, my mother passed away from colon cancer at the age of 53, so I fully understood the scary and painful journey ahead. I had Stage 2, triple-positive cancer in my right breast. Due to my young age, it was particularly aggressive. Multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy – all the things from my mother’s past now awaited me.
Her experience made me realise that a cancer diagnosis affects every single aspect of your life: from how you eat, sleep and exercise, to your social relationships, family dynamics and emotional well-being. I knew I had to come up with a plan. I needed to feel a sense of control – and fast.
Thinking positive is half the battle won
I learnt early on that having the right mindset was an important part of my recovery plan. I was lucky that I had a natural tendency to see the glass half full, but I believe resilience and a positive mindset are skills that can be learned.
For the first time in my life, I used positive affirmations. I repeated statements such as, “My treatment is working and I am healing”, “I believe in my body’s ability to heal and restore” and “Cancer is leaving my body”. These really helped to keep me strong and focused.
I also worked hard to keep a sense of normality in my day-to-day life. The more familiar I was with treatments, side effects, and managing my personal life and professional relationships, the stronger I felt in continuing my life as it was. I told those who knew about my diagnosis not to treat me any differently. I didn’t want the “pity eyes”. Cancer patients long to be treated as they always have been, and not be seen as “a sick person”.
I consciously planned to match any negative moments with positive ones. For example, the four days that followed chemo would always be difficult: lots of nausea, weakness, fatigue and an inability to eat. On those days, I kept my schedule free. I’d stay at home and binge-watch Sex and The City, my favourite TV show at the time. Laughter is a powerful antidote against negative feelings, so I tried to laugh every day.
Of course, there were “not so good” days. When those happened, I set a deadline and told myself, “It’s okay to feel sad but at 12pm you’ll do one thing to make you feel better”. I’d see friends, go for dinner or take a walk in nature. I also treated myself to extravagant shopping! Sometimes just getting out of bed, taking a shower and getting dressed would change my state of mind.
A cancer coach on a mission
After six months of chemotherapy, followed by three months of daily radiotherapy, I believed that cancer would never be a part of my life again. When my husband received a job offer in Singapore, we decided to take a leap of faith. It was the perfect opportunity to move on and pretend cancer didn’t happen. It worked… for almost two years.
In 2008, during a routine check-up, the oncologist announced that my cancer was back. After the shock, I realised I needed to explore a more holistic mind-body approach to healing and remaining healthy. When I couldn’t find a person or place to assist me with this, I created my own “toolbox” to better prepare myself for surgery, treatment, recovery and life after cancer.
Fourteen years have since passed. In that time, I’ve continuously educated myself about health and well-being — specifically health coaching, functional medicine, stress management, and how to optimise sleep and nutrition in the context of cancer.
I’ve learned about the mind-body connection by becoming qualified in yoga, breathing techniques, meditation and reiki, and studying visualisation techniques. With this knowledge, I was determined to turn my personal experience of cancer into something constructive and positive. In 2016, I started work as a cancer coach with the mission to help and empower others.
Most of my clients contact me a few days after receiving their diagnosis. They often feel overwhelmed with the information they have to process and the uncertainty of what to expect. Together, we decide on priorities to work on. These often include nutrition, movement, stress management, sleep patterns and emotional well-being. It’s not about overwhelming them with information. Instead, we work on a realistic step-by-step plan to give them back a sense of empowerment.
Reaching for resilience in tough times
It’s important for cancer patients to be equipped with effective strategies to build resilience. You don’t realise how draining it is to inform others about your diagnosis until you actually do it. Having to talk about your situation repeatedly with others makes you constantly re-live all the negative emotions. Often, you have to confront insensitive comments and intrusive questions. Compared to the magnitude of the disease, nobody really talks about this or prepares you for these situations. These aspects are often underestimated, but the trauma is real.
In the same spirit, I believe it’s important for cancer patients to talk about the challenges they might face in their physical appearance. When I had cancer, I lost every single hair on my body, my skin looked greyish, and my body was puffy and bloated.
I’d leave my house feeling confident, strong and in control. But the reactions from people around me, or the insensitive comments and questions, kept reminding me of the seriousness of my illness. It required courage to step out in public. I would take a deep breath before getting out of my car and tell myself, “You can do this”, “You’ll be fine”, and “People are not mean, they just don’t know better”.
The fear of treatments is something else patients face. These days, I guide clients on what to expect after a diagnosis and questions to ask their medical team, particularly when it comes to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. We also discuss practical aspects, like what to bring to the hospital and how to organise your schedule around chemo days. People don’t always realise it’s important to talk about these things.
Of course, cancer affects the patient’s family and friends, too. That’s why I help family members to feel better equipped to support their loved ones with a cancer diagnosis. I encourage and guide them in maintaining their own physical and emotional health.
Today, I’m 49 and in the best shape of my life
As a cancer survivor, I remain physically and mentally strong by maintaining a healthy lifestyle – without becoming too obsessed. It’s all about balance; being responsible and going for regular check-ups and screenings without constantly living in fear.
Through hard work and research, I’ve found my way. I live in tune with my body and my emotions. I work daily on my well-being. I’m very protective of my sleep and try to exercise five times a week. I practise pilates, aqua gym and bike with my boys. My favourite activity is walking in the Botanic Gardens. I make sure I have a balanced and nutrient-dense diet, and I monitor my stress levels with daily meditation.
When I coach my clients on how to implement sustainable healthy habits into their lives, it serves as a constant reminder for me. It highlights the importance of walking my talk. But I’m also very understanding of the daily challenges. It’s never about perfection but finding a realistic, balanced and personalised approach that works for each individual.
Since 2016, I’ve coached over 100 people affected by cancer in Singapore and all over the world. I’m humbled by their stories, drive and spirit. Every person and circumstance is unique, yet together we can achieve a higher level of health, quality of life, and emotional and physical well-being. Through my work as a cancer coach, I’ve found my passion, my purpose and my calling.