Simon and Rachel are what you would call a picture-perfect married couple. Simon, an officer in the Singapore Armed Forces, and Rachel, a General Manager in a public listed company, both enjoyed fulfilling careers and shared a blissfully married life together.
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse in 2012, when Rachel started to feel very unwell. After a series of medical screenings, she was hit with bad news: it was breast cancer.
Cancer treatment started immediately for Rachel. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy took a large toll on her, but with Rachel’s tenacious spirit and unwavering support from Simon, she tackled her sickness head-on, was pronounced cancer-free in December 2013.
Throughout this ordeal, their love for each other never wavered, and Rachel was determined to bounce back and live a normal, fulfilling life.
Simon had always been a runner, and with encouragement and support from him, Rachel took up running shortly after her final chemotherapy session.
In the short span of 9 months, she completed 2 half-marathons, a 14km run, and 9 10km runs. That included travelling to Australia for the Gold Coast Airport Marathon in July, which was their first overseas run together.
RunSociety is proud to share this inspiring story of how Simon and Rachel built their life back after cancer, step by step!
RS: We understand that Rachel is a cancer survivor. Can you share your story with us?
Rachel: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and went through mastectomy, 16 cycles of chemotherapy and 25 times of radiotherapy. The intensive treatments spanned across 1 and a half years.
It was a tough, tough time. I went from being fit and healthy to a deteriorating body during the treatments. To a certain extent, I was incapacitated and my quality of life was really impacted. For instance, my right hand cannot sustain heavy loads for long periods. In other words, bowling is out for me now. It was a sport that I enjoyed with my husband in the past.
To reciprocate Simon’s undying support all this while, and also in an effort to live a healthier lifestyle, I started brisk walking and running shortly after the treatments.
Simon has always been passionate about running. At first, I thought running would be the least I could do together with him. After running for a while, I surprised myself by falling in love with running too. Running started to become evidence of me putting in a fight for my life, especially when I cross the finishing line each time in every run I complete.
Q. Now that the toughest is over, how are both of you now? Does Rachel require any more treatment or medication?
Simon:The toughest times may have passed, but the treatment is still far from over. Rachel is still undergoing monthly treatments for the next few years and daily oral medications for 10 years. Her body is still undergoing adjustments whenever a change in medication or treatment is required. During those times, her running regimen would take a back seat.
Having watched Rachel deteriorate with her illness and come back to health, it taught me an important lesson: that we should accomplish dreams when we are still able and fit. Hence, as Rachel picked up running, I also started chasing my dreams – to participate in overseas runs and ultra-marathons.
Q. Rachel, before you decided to run your first marathon at the 2XU Compression Run (21km) in March earlier this year, you only started training 4 months before. How did the both of you train for this run?
Rachel: Simple, I followed Simon whenever he went to East Coast Park for his long runs. We did 2 to 3 weekends per month from January to March. Due to our different paces, Simon and I would train independently at East Coast Park.
His norm was to cover 20 to 35km in each run whilst I could just cope with 10 to 18km. By the time I attempted my first half-marathon during the 2XU Compression Run in March, finishing 21 km was no longer too intimidating for me.
Simon: I was initially worried for Rachel as this was her first half marathon event. I advised her on some do’s and don’ts for running half-marathons whenever possible.
Q. Simon, you have a mantra: “Complete, not Compete”. How did you come up with this motto?
Simon: To me, completing races are more important than winning. I only have myself to beat in a race. I believe that we should enjoy the full distance without feeling too much external pressure from competition. The priority is to challenge oneself to enjoy and complete the race. That’s how I encourage Rachel in her runs.
When I go for a run, I just have to ensure that I give my best shot and do not give up easily. What is more important is that I learn valuable lessons from every run. For instance, one of the memorable lessons I personally learnt is not to consume stimulating food before any run. I remember puking during a running event because of a stomach upset. I had taken nasi lemak an hour before the run!
Rachel: It took my recent illness and 8 years of marriage for Simon to ‘infect’ me with the running bug! I still remember his shocked look when I told him that I had registered for the 10km category in last year’s Great Eastern Women’s Run. As that was my first attempt in any organised runs, he advised me not to be affected by other runners’ speed and just focus to complete the full distance, which I did!
Thereafter, “Complete, Not Compete” is something I always repeat in my mind whenever I participate in any runs. It works for me, and makes reaching the finishing line easier!
Q. You had your first overseas runs in Australia. For Rachel, it was the Southern Cross University 10km Run, and Simon ran the Gold Coast Airport Marathon.
What was the motivation behind going overseas for a run?
Simon: Having participated in many local road races over the years, I began to feel that the race routes started to look too similar in most races. For example, race organisers would usually entail routes along East Coast Park, Nicole Highway and Benjamin Sheares Bridge.
We heard many good reviews about the Gold Coast Airport Marathon – the warm support from the community, flat terrain and cool weather. The decision was easy after we won a 3-night stay at Four Seasons Sydney during last year’s Run for Hope race bib creation contest. These motivated us to make Gold Coast Airport Marathon our first overseas run.
Rachel: We were grounded in Singapore after my surgery. I was really looking forward to a getaway with Simon. The greatest motivation for me was the chance to be physically there to support Simon in pursuing his dream – to run in an overseas marathon.
Q. Will there be a second overseas run for both of you? Or will it be a vacation without the run?
Simon: Why not? I have registered for the ballot for the 2015 Tokyo Marathon. If I am lucky enough to secure a slot, we will go to Tokyo for a vacation and end it with the marathon in February 2015. Otherwise, we may be going down under the second time to participate in Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2015!
Q. As husband and wife, how do you train, workout and exercise together?
Rachel: If possible, we try to have weekly walk, run or bike sessions every weekend. In order not to be bored by the same route all the time, we explore different places in Singapore such as East Coast Park, Labrador Park, Bishan Park, Gardens by the Bay, Punggol Waterway and more. It makes our workouts more interesting. With all this different places, we feel like we are going on regular dates with each other.
I will be attempting my first full-marathon in Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore in December. I am worried and excited at the same time. To prep myself in this longest run of my life, I will be participating in a few more running events too, like the upcoming Straits Times Run at the Hub (21km).
We adopted Betty (a local crossbreed dog) into our family a year ago. Since then, Betty has been part of our morning routine as she accompanies Simon and me in morning walks and jogs at our estate.
During rainy seasons, I try to cover regular short treadmill sessions at home too.
Simon: Unlike Rachel, I do not fancy the treadmill, so I have my personal running sessions on weekday mornings or evenings, mostly near where we live. On the average, I clock about 40-70km per week.
Q. Can you share any favourite or memorable memories that happened while running?
Rachel: Every run is unique and memorable to me. I am blessed with a loving husband who will wait for me at the end point, without fail. I am usually way behind him. Most of the time, he will complete his own run, then make a U-turn and pace me to the finishing line.
Simon always goes that extra mile for me. He is my personal pacer, trainer, motivator and mobile porter whenever possible. How can I forget such fond memories?
Simon: My wife is my best friend. It is precious to have a partner that knows your life and runs together with you. Rachel and I may run at a different pace, but our hearts and minds are together. I will always remember how Rachel stood alone in the cold morning of Gold Coast Airport Marathon and cheered me on crazily at various distance markers.
She was running a fever that morning. Yet, she stood there for me from the start to the end of my full marathon race, because she wanted to be there for me.
Q. In light of Rachel’s victorious fight against cancer, both of you have been selected by Run For Hope as Ambassadors. What are some of the things to look forward to in the lead up to Run For Hope in November?
Simon & Rachel: Run For Hope will take place on 16 November 2014. To date, we have done some PR initiatives such as photography/videography and interview sessions. We look forward to meeting other ambassadors for we know we have the same mission – to run for hope and cancer research for patients and their families. We are likely to clock some long distance challenges before the actual event day. We are really looking forward to it, as we know we are doing it for a good cause!
Q. Rachel, your brave fighting spirit in the face of cancer is such an inspiration, and Simon’s support during this ordeal is truly commendable. Do you have anything to share for others who are going through similar situations with their loved ones?
Simon & Rachel: The route to recovery may be tough, both for the patient and the family members. As patients, we need to stay strong and positive. Our strength and positive attitude will inspire our family members and loved ones to be strong too.
However, do bear in mind that many have endured the treatments and overcome cancer as well. Like me, they were given a second chance to live again, so let’s all make the best of it!
Rachel’s next race will be the Straits Time Run at the Hub, while Simon will be attempting his very first ultramarathon distance at the Craze Ultra. Rachel will also be running her first marathon with Simon at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore in December! Let’s wish them all the best!
Photos courtesy of Simon and Rachel Leng, unless otherwise stated.