Breast cancer survivor Irene Chui became fitter after cancer. By Joyce Teo
Ms Chui enjoys the team camaraderie and adrenaline rush of a dragon boat race. Photo: Denise Ee / The Straits Times
ABOUT IRENE CHUI
Ms Chui is the captain of Paddlers in the Pink, a dragon boat team made up of breast cancer survivors. She picked up dragon boating 12 years ago at the encouragement of her support group at the Breast Cancer Foundation.
She also takes part in community outreach activities, which she plans for her company in her role as an employee engagement specialist.
She and her husband have two children.
Q: What do you like most about dragon boating?
A: Dragon boating came into my life after my breast cancer treatment and surgery in June 2004. Since then, I have kept up a fitness routine.
I love the endurance, perseverance and teamwork required in a race. There’s also the camaraderie among team members – we love to travel together as a team for overseas races – and the adrenaline rush. And it is meaningful.
We train for a reason – to demonstrate that it is possible to lead an active lifestyle after surviving cancer.
Q: What is your secret to looking so fabulous?
A: To me, looking good means feeling good, and it is very important to consistently work on feeling good.
Q: Has there ever been a time when you were not fit and fab?
A: Ironically, that was before I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36 in 2001, when my kids were aged nine and 11.
I was living a mostly sedentary lifestyle and focusing on work.
Q: How important is it for you to keep up with your fitness routine?
A: It is very important as I want to stay energetic constantly, maintain good immunity and keep cancer at bay. Furthermore, I get the added bonus of “growing young” as I continue with my routine. It keeps me feeling young. It’s part of my lifestyle now. I also like to do some stretching before I start the day and before I sleep.
Q: What is the most extreme thing you have done in the name of fitness or diet?
A: I cut out a lot of my carb and sugar intake and ate smaller portions in order to lose weight.
I challenged myself to lose weight about two years back when I found myself at 63.5kg. I cut it down to 55kg over eight months but have since put on 2kg, probably due to muscle gain.
Q: What is your diet like?
A: My diet is low in carbohydrates and sugar. I eat a lot of vegetables, make my own smoothie with yogurt and lots of nuts and chai seeds, and try to consume organic products as much as I can.
A typical dinner could be miso soup with mushrooms, an avocado salad and grilled fish.
Q: What are your indulgences?
A: Chocolates and waffles with ice cream.
Q: How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
A: I devote myself to my fitness routine and I practise mindfulness and self care. I am trying to do the latter as a ritual or at least when I am overwhelmed at work. I will take time to close my eyes and take deep breaths.
Before I sleep, I also make it a habit to count my blessings for the day.
I do not work fewer hours these days but I now enjoy my job, so that makes a difference.
Q: What are the three most important things in your life?
A: My family, friends and, most importantly, God.
Q: How has your active lifestyle influenced your family and friends?
A: I like to think I lead by example, in showing active ageing is important and that we can do so much more with a healthy mind and body. I totally believe in ageing gracefully.
Q: What’s your favourite part of your body?
A: My upper torso. My least favourite parts are my thighs.
Q: Would you go for plastic surgery?
A: With my two breasts reconstructed, ovaries removed and having endured countless needle pricks during my treatment, I will definitely say no thanks to any unneeded plastic surgery.
Q: Do you think you’re sexy?
A: Yes, at least internally. Haha!
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2016, with the headline ‘Dragon boating helps mum ‘grow young”.