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…
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.
And The Cancer Journey Continues
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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.”
“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
“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.
“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!”
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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