Unfolding Renée’s Cancer Journey (Part 2 Of 2)

Renée Aziz Ahmad was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. She sought to raise the awareness of the disease whilst she herself was undergoing recovery, sharing her cancer journey and experiences on social media, talks and through her daily active pursuits. Until she was diagnosed with cancer… again…

Renée on a small via ferata in Austria.
Renée on a small via ferata in Austria. As her mother is from Brixlegg, Austria, she visits her family there as often as she can.
Image courtesy of Renée and friends.

A Cancer Journey You Can’t Run Away From

Then in 2010 Renée developed breathing difficulties. Her worst fears were confirmed. The breast cancer had metastasized to the lungs. Containing the disease with a course of hormone treatments, Renée was determined to continue living up to a life of active challenges.

Renée took up running.

“My first run in 2004 was on the treadmill and lasted all of 30 seconds!”

Renée Aziz Ahmad Was First Diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2001. since then she Has taken to an active lifestyle whilst battling the disease.

Of course, a great deal has changed since then. Having conquered Mount Kilimanjaro and being a team member of the Climb With Pride Aconcagua Expedition, Renée’s fitness level has certainly gone above and beyond that thirty-second outing.

“These races were for fun really. I just loved being amongst friends who placed an importance on their fitness as they do food! I mean, who doesn’t want to have time out with their girlfriends for some fun!” she fondly recalled.

Renée’s first ten-kilometre race was at the Penang Bridge International Marathon in 2010. It was not a notable timing. The fact that she had completed the distance was the achievement she sought.

Victory having completed the 10 kilometre race at the Penang Bridge International Marathon 2010. Running too has taken on an active role in her cancer journey.
At the end of her first ten-kilometre race, Renée was all smiles!
Image courtesy of Renée and friends.

And The Cancer Journey Continues

In 2014 Renée was diagnosed with another unrelated cancer. That tingling sensation in her right jaw was caused by an acinic cell carcinoma in the parotid gland. She had to undergo another surgery.

“This was a new malignancy, unrelated to my breast cancer. Thankfully, recovery was easier this time as treatment did not involve chemotherapy, only radiotherapy,” she said.

Renée observed a suitable convalescing period before continuing her active pursuits; short hikes and intermittent runs, in keeping with a fit and healthy lifestyle.

The Alarm Bells Ring… Again

In 2016, on one of these little hikes, Renée felt unnaturally breathless. This called for an immediate check-up. It was discovered that the breast cancer had already metastasized to her lung and affected the thoracic cavity, close to the aorta.

“I restarted the hormone treatments, finally understanding and accepting that I was now living with metastatic breast cancer,” she said reconciling to the status quo.

Prior to this diagnosis, Renée had missed out on her medication. That lapse had inexplicably been prolonged and it seemed as if she is now paying for it.

“When I went back to my oncologist, Dr John Low, he was so reassuring. He kept on at me, saying that I should not beat myself up for having done so. He dispelled all that guilt. We focused on looking forward and what needs to be done,” she reflected, grateful for his support.

Renée on her cancer journey.
Renée, undeterred and keeping up her strength, emotionally, mentally and physically.
Image courtesy of Renée and friends.

“Life is what it is. If you make a mistake it doesn’t mean you will never be able to take the good path. That is a general life truth. If you dwell on your mistakes for too long, it becomes a crutch, a stumbling block. Look back and learn; take that lesson and move on. More importantly is the opportunity for you to change the attitude and take on the positive route.”

Renée Aziz Ahmad, on Life’s Lessons Learnt

And move on she did!

Joining Forces With Kembara Srikandi Prihatin

The Kembara Srikandi Prihatin (KSP) campaign is an initiative by Persatuan Kembara Negara. It is aimed at uniting women from all walks of life to join them in their outdoor activities and create a healthy lifestyle. It is in sharing that they hope to raise awareness for the less fortunate amongst us, seeking to help make a positive difference to all.

In August 2017, six members of Kembara Srikandi Prihatin attempted one of the world’s seven summits, Mount Elbrus in Russia. An invitation was extended to MAKNA or National Cancer Council Malaysia; who then elected Renée as the ideal representative on this challenging expedition.

In training with the Kembara Srikandi Prihatin team at Mount Kinabalu. The Mount Elbrus expedition was one of the adventures on Renée's cancer journey when she was elected to represent the National Cancer Council Malaysia.
Training at Mount Kinabalu for their Mount Elbrus expedition.
From left to right: Koh Kong Yong, Choo Ann, Lee Meng Lai, Renée, Fairul Asmaini Mohd Pilus (Nini), Fazilah Abdul Manan (Dila), Ummu Farah Haidar Zulkifli (Myra) and Ahmad Fakhri Abu Samah (Manai).
Image courtesy of Renée and friends.

Another Cancer Journey Towards Creating Awareness

Mount Elbrus is the highest mountain in Europe, rising up to 5,642 metres and is one of the seven summits. These are the highest mountains of each continent, the conquering of all seven is a goal of many adventurers.

Renée en route to the base camp at Mount Elbrus.
Renée, en route to the base camp at Mount Elbrus.
Image courtesy of Renée and friends.

Indeed it was an exciting challenge for Renée. She has summitted one of the seven summits (Mount Kilimanjaro), attempted to scale (Mount Aconcagua) and now with Elbrus, was working her way towards the third! 

The Kembara Srikandi Prihatin team on an acclimatisation hike before attempting to summit Mount Elbrus.
The expedition team on their acclimatisation hike upon arrival at Mount Elbrus, Russia.
Image courtesy of Renée and friends.

Summiting Is Not The Be-All And End-All

“Unfortunately my bid for the summit ended at 5,000 metres due to circumstances that were beyond my control. When I reached that altitude, I found several ladies waiting to go down due to AMS and general fatigue. I had the last guide with me and so I too had to turn around and descend together with my team mates who could no longer continue. Our fourth climber, Nurul Huda Shamsuddin (Bam) managed to reach 5,200 metres before turning back. Team leader Ummu Farah Haidar Zulkifli (Myra) was the only one amongst us KSP ladies to reach the summit.”

Renée with three other members of her team returning to base camp. This was Renée's first attempt at summiting Mount Elbrus.
Just before the team headed back down to base camp.
Foreground left to right: Fairul Asmaini Mohd Pilus (Nini), Nir Azmin Adnan (Nir), Fazilah Abdul Manan (Dila) and Renée.
Image courtesy of Renée and friends.

“I’ve learnt that to summit is not the be-all and end-all. This is my summit, under my circumstance. I stake my claim on it and I shall celebrate.”

RENÉE AZIZ AHMAD, On her attempt to Summit Mount Elbrus
The view from The Saddle, Mount Elbrus.
The Saddle is between the two peaks of Elbrus. It is the last steep ascent before reaching the top.
Image courtesy of Renée and friends.

“I was naturally disappointed. However at that point, at The Saddle, I was overcome by an indescribable sense of privilege. There I was between the two peaks of Elbrus. And the view… it was not a view of anything really. But just the snow, the mountain, clouds and mountain tops that separate Russia and Georgia. That took my breath away,” Renée reflecting being overcome with a sense of awe.

Renée Aziz Ahmad

The Repeated Call Of Elbrus

Renée attempted Mount Elbrus a second time in 2019, an adventure with her good friend and avid supporter Leong Dee Lu of Corezone. Theirs is a friendship that had started since Renée was preparing for her expedition to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in 2004. Since then Corezone has been looking after Renée’s equipment needs on all her major climbs; Dee Lu’s a good friend and confidante.

Renée and Leong Dee Lu of Corezone. They had sought to summit Mount Elbrus on one of Renée's cancer journey
Renée and Dee Lu as they made their way to the summit of Mount Elbrus.
Image courtesy Renée and friends.

“This time I was able to reach an elevation of 5,350 metres at The Saddle between the east and west peaks. The decision to not go further was made due to the difficulty I was having with my breathing. This would represent a risk if I chose to go any higher.”

Renée recounts her journey in a blog and ended with a footnote that would best sum up her will to succeed: “My initial thoughts after the climb were that I had reached my limit on this mountain, but I’ve already started thinking about how I might improve my breathing so that I might perhaps give Mount Elbrus a third try in the not-too-distant future!”

At the summit of Mount Elbrus, Leong Dee Lu proudly waves the Malaysian flag.
Leong Dee Lu summits Mount Elbrus and keeps the Malaysian flag flying high on the highest mountain in Europe.
Image courtesy of Renée and friends.

And The Cancer Journey Continues

Then in August 2020 Renée scheduled a PET scan. She noted that the CA153 tumour marker readings had crept up through the years. The oncologist noted that there were a few suspicious looking hot spots in the scan. However, without a biopsy there was no way to confirm the presence of cancer cells. Dr Low suggested a change in medication but cautioned Renée of the side effects.

“He said there would be mouth ulcers and upon hearing that, I broke down and cried. I was miserable.”

Renée Aziz Ahmad

Renée seemed to have reached a breaking point. It all seemed a little too much, a little too difficult, a little too tiring. She admitted then that she was battle-weary.

“After all, it’s been more than four years, coming to five in fact, since I accepted the reality that my cancer has metastasized. And I guess the continuous effort of overcoming various challenges along the way has taken its toll,” she submitted.

Thankfully Renée managed to ease the discomfort caused by the mouth ulcers. The pharmacist at the hospital had prepared a mouth wash based on the doctor’s prescription and the drug manufacturer’s advice.

Renée's cancer journey is a banner that tells her story. A photo opportunity with some of the medical staff at the hospital where Renée receives medical treatment.
“Overall I’d have to say cancer treatment in Malaysia is up to date, except perhaps for the more experimental treatments that are still on trial. The medical staff have been excellent from the specialists, nurses, lab technicians to everyone down the line have been exceptional caregivers. I had the opportunity to pull some of these amazing people aside for just a few minutes to take a photograph together with me and my banner.”
Image courtesy of Renée and friends.

There Really Is No Cure To Cancer

To date, Renée is in complete metabolic remission. Whilst this does indicate that the current treatments are working, there is no way of knowing for how long they will continue to be effective.

“There really is no cure. Metastatic breast cancer patients do not talk about becoming “cancer-free”. These are treatments aimed at achieving progression-free survival.”

Renée. Aziz Ahmad

Reflections Of Renée’s Cancer Journey

Indeed it has been a tough journey for Renée. Physical and emotional challenges have created a pattern of sorts on Renee’s journey but these are but designs in her life.

“I’ve always felt that whatever happens to you there is usually something good that comes with it. For instance had it not been for the first cancer diagnosis, I would not have spent so much time with my late mother. These were precious moments with her, quality time and conversations with Mum.”

“As with the period that I had undergone chemotherapy in 2001, my sister Adrina was with me for all but one of the sessions. She kept me awake, in conversation and cheerful. I am so blessed.”

A memory  of the younger Aziz Ahmad sisters. They had stood behind Renée through her cancer journey.
“This photograph shows me with my two sisters Elina and baby Adrina. I’m the middle child, standing on the left in the photo! My sisters are two of my staunchest supporters. They have been with me throughout my cancer journey and I honestly don’t know where I would be today if I didn’t have them to lean on.“
“Sisters are Angels who lift us up when our wings forget how to fly.”
Image from Renée’s personal album.

Contemplating The Value Of Friendship

And friends… there have been many through the years. These are friendships that were forged during childhood, at school, at work and ones that have come later in life through shared interests and activities.

“Each is special in his or her own way. These are important ties that have helped me to get over this hill to get on. They support, motivate, and inspire.”

Keeping Up With Renée’s Cancer Journey

Renée started her own blog on Facebook and created an Instagram account in 2019, highlighting the issues a breast cancer patients would encounter. She documents her medical predicaments and directs the readers to relevant websites. Renée unabashedly shares her emotional dilemma, her triumphant moments too and through all intents and purposes help us realise that we are in this world together.

We may appear to walk the same path as others who have walked before us, but the truth is, everyone experiences their own journey.”

Renée Aziz ahmad

The ‘Renée’s Cancer Journey’ Banner

‘Renée’s Cancer Journey’ is a banner Renée sometimes takes with her on her active pursuits. It is a reminder that life is about creating opportunities to enrich your life and living up to its best. Needless to say, the banner gains attention when it is unravelled!

Renée's Cancer Journey banner in Nepal with Gokul Thapa.
On her last hiking trip to Nepal, Renée met Gokul Thapa. In addition to running a trekking company with his partner Dayula Sherpa, Gokul also works to bring hospice facilities and other assistance to cancer patients and their families in Nepal.
Image courtesy Renée and friends.

Running did not start off as Renée‘s cancer challenge. However, it developed to become a tool for her as she raised funds for breast cancer organisations and other cancer groups. For instance when she ran the Sydney Marathon, she raised funds for the Breast Cancer Network in Australia.

Running on the Sydney Harbour Bridge at the Sydney Marathon. Renée raised awareness and some funds for Breast Cancer Network Australia.
Captured! Renée on the Sydney Harbour Bridge at the marathon in September 2018.
Image courtesy of Renée and friends.

Yes indeed, Renée has taken off from her 10 km runs to a marathon! Although, unfortunately, she was too slow to complete the race, Renée experienced the very supportive crowd and revelled in the opportunity that had presented itself to her joining parts of the race. Then in 2019 Renée took part in the Standard Chartered KL Marathon’s Run For A Reason, helping to raise funds and awareness for MAKNA.

On Becoming The Face Of Cancer Awareness

Through her expeditions, Renée is a notable and instantly recognisable personality. Her demeanour wins friendships almost immediately and many have not shied from approaching her with questions and requests for a snapshot together.

“It always surprises me if someone knows or remembers who I am! But I guess if I am a bit of a “personality”, then it’s best for me to put that to good use in spreading more awareness about breast cancer!”

Renée Aziz Ahmad

Learn more about the Breast Cancer Foundation and MAKNA (National Cancer Council Malaysia). Help play a part in helping patients and survivors to continue an enriched life.

About Azlina ALI

Veteran journalist, wife, mother, with an ever burning passion to write and tell stories. Then throw in a dose of healthy diet and an active lifestyle, Azlina is a force to be reckoned with. She's a lean, mean storytelling machine.

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