What stops Theresa Tan in her tracks? Nothing. She has beaten race competitors, her own fears and insecurities and she’s beaten cancer, which shows how unstoppable she is! Though diagnosed with scoliosis at age 13, that didn’t mean that she stopped being active. Instead, she forged ahead with such focus, by the time the joint-winner of the Singapore Woman Award 2012 was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, she already knew how to fight.
These days, she’s a whirlwind: she and her husband are raising three active children, she advocates on behalf of women with cancer who have no health coverage, she runs a writing agency and, oh yes, she likes a good race. Her book, A Clean Breast, was a labour of love, a defiant statement and the tale of a woman who’s yet to meet a challenge she couldn’t face down. It was a privilege to interview her. You’ll likely agree.
RS: Okay, if we jump in by asking you how many times you’ve participated in the Sundown Marathon?
Theresa: I think I ran my one and only Sundown 10km in 2012, but I’m not sure. I realised from the get-go that it’s much harder to run at night. The humidity was so intense, it felt like pushing through a Jell-O wall!
RS: We understand that you will serve as a Sundown Marathon Tribe Ambassador under the ‘Family’ category. Can we assume you’ll run with family members? What does this race mean to you?
Theresa: My husband will join me at this year’s Sundown. It’s a special race because I am representing the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF). Raising awareness for children who are stricken with cancer is near and dear to my heart, and funds raised by events like marathons can mean life or death for kids whose families have no way to pay for treatments. Many children’s cancers are curable and survivors live long, fruitful lives. As a mother of three, it’s my privilege to help raise awareness for CCF.
RS: Your race history is impressive! Which was the most memorable and why?
Theresa: My most memorable race JUST took place in January! My husband and I flew to Anaheim, USA to run the inaugural Disney Star Wars 10km. We celebrated our 20th anniversary there. Our run route took us through both the original Disneyland and the California Dreamin’ theme parks. We “met” Darth Vader and Boba Fett and took photos. It was really fun; we had so many laughs along the way. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that race!
RS: Have you noticed an increase in women-only running events? What do you think about them?
Theresa: Here’s my answer, and it won’t be popular: I’m not a fan of “chick runs”. It’s distracting to run alongside girls who are jogging while complaining loudly about their boyfriends. That sort of thing is best enjoyed with cake and coffee. I like races in which everyone’s equal, men and women, and from diverse backgrounds. I recall being impressed by a man who has polio; I can only imagine how painful it was for him to compete, yet I wouldn’t have met him if it had been a ‘girls-only’ event! That said, I understand the appeal of chick runs. My very first race was a Nike Goddess 5km, now discontinued. I loved watching moms and daughters have fun out there.
RS: Do your other family members love to run?
Theresa: My husband was a marathoner throughout his university days, which was when we dated. I was a sloth! My kids do not like to run; they’re into biking, rollerblading and rock-climbing. Anything but running!
RS: How do you and your family stay healthy?
Theresa: We stay as active as possible and running is a big piece of my lifestyle. After marriage and kids, my husband and I sort of fell off the exercise wagon. It took my breast cancer in 2010 to get my head on straight. I began walking and then running as I recovered from surgery. My husband was ecstatic—at last there was a sport we could share!
RS: Your life is hectic. Can you describe your typical morning routine?
Theresa: I awaken at 6 a.m. to drive my older daughter to school. From there, I head to the gym. Each day, I do something different: treadmill running, body combat, yoga; whatever I’m in the mood to do. Getting exercise in the morning is my secret to consistency: I don’t put it off or I won’t do it. I like feeling all pumped up and ready for work. I usually finish early enough to have a breakfast of rolled oats. On days I spoil myself, it’s a croissant!
RS: Wow. That’s just your morning! How about the rest of your day?
Theresa: I work half days at my church office, take a lunch break around 1:30 p.m. and do homework with my 9-year-old, which can take up to three hours. I also run a writing agency, so I handle client work in the afternoons. By evening, I’m ready to dine with my husband, relax and talk. Sometimes, I even cook! By 9 p.m., it’s prayers and bedtime for the little ones. I might get another spot of work done before bedtime at 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. (I know I am writing to you at 11:15 p.m. Irony not lost on me!)
RS: You triumphed over cancer and we think you are remarkable for doing so. Can you share with us what kept you going during your darkest hours?
Theresa: My faith. It is the most precious thing I gained from the experience. When you face a cancer diagnosis, you can’t help but think of death. I realised that nothing and no one could help me but God. In terms of earthly support, my amazing husband was and still is my biggest cheerleader, caregiver, snack-buyer, prayer warrior. My children gave me strength just by existing. I look at them and tell myself, “Theresa, you’re not leaving yet!” I need to see them grow up and, preferably, supply me with grandchildren before I leave this world!
RS: You’ve written a book about battling breast cancer. What lessons did you learn from this grueling experience?
Theresa: These are my three rules for dealing with cancer:
- Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Staying positive is the biggest cancer fighting drug of all since the battle for health is also waged in the mind.
- Be prepared. Whether it’s cancer or another disease, it pays to be prepared. Buy the most comprehensive hospital and medical coverage possible – enhance your Medishield plan. It makes a world of difference. When you’re fighting for your life you can’t wonder about how you will pay for your surgery!
- Make every day count. When I faced my mortality, I realised I couldn’t afford to waste another day in the company of negative people, negative jobs and thinking negative thoughts. I believe that one should use precious time to change things for the better. Healthy eating, working out, spending quality time with each child and alone time with my husband are priorities. I’ve basically cut out everything in my life that’s doesn’t matter.
RS: Is there any way to prevent the cancer from coming back?
Theresa: Cancer is a b*tch and I have no way of knowing if it will come back, but I fight that possibility with the right tools. I try to eat clean and healthy (anyone who knows me knows I love my food!!!). I work out, see my doctors regularly and I stay away from smoke, minimise alcohol, cut out stress. These are the things I can control to help me minimise my chances of a relapse.
RS: Can you offer advice to people battling cancer?
Theresa: Never give up—you can make it through this! Stay positive and speak positively. For Christians like me, the Bible is a lifesaver. I read aloud promises in the Bible about being entirely healed, enjoying a long life, seeing my children grow and prosper. That encourages me a LOT!
RS: What about treatment? What’s your opinion on treatments available to cancer patients today?
Theresa: I know this is controversial, but I advise against alternative treatments if cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation and/or chemo. I’ve seen too many people die because they decided to drink juice or tea after reading a magazine article about a juice or tea cure. My mantra is: Save your life first with traditional methods and then consider alternative treatments.
RS: What about cancer prevention? There’s plenty of advice on that topic.
Theresa: I’ve recently read about the Budwig Protocol. It’s diet-based and includes foods like cottage cheese and flaxseed oil. It’s promoted as a way to prevent cancer and since there are no strange things on the menu, I may give it a try since it seems doable.
RS: What are your resolutions and goals in 2015? Which upcoming races will you run?
Theresa: My goal for 2015 is to make each day count! I will run the Sundown and I’m considering the Living Project run. It’s 16km! Ugh. My husband and I are considering the Paris-Versailles Run later this year—also 16km, but in much less humid weather!
What a warrior! Find out more about Theresa on her blog as this amazing woman writes the next chapters of her life. It’s obvious Theresa’s faith plays a major role in her life, so we are eager to know if you are on the same page. Have you faced a health or personal crisis that made you realise how important your faith is? Please send us your story.
Say high to Theresa when you spot her at the upcoming Sundown Marathon 2015 and give her a smile if you agree that “Cancer is a b*tch!”