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This morning I ran my third half-marathon for the 24th edition of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Montréal Marathon. My main goal for this race was quite simple: I did not want to get injured. If you have ever run a race, you know the importance of pacing and for my first two half-marathons I made a neophyte mistake: I went too hard, too early and ended up hobbling for the last eight to ten kilometres with an achy knee. Last year, I could not believe I made the mistake of not pacing myself yet again, so this year I vowed to do better. So I made the goals of warming up for the first one-third of third, then slightly increasing my pace for the next third of the race, and finally pushing myself in the last kilometres. And I was so glad I made these simple goals as I ended up shaving off a whole twelve minutes off last year’s horrible time and obtain a personal record this year.
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A lesson I learned from running through the Prairies in Manitoba, Western Canada.

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By nature, I am a city girl. I was born in Seoul, South Korea, which as of 2012 had a population of 25.7 million people in the Seoul Capital Area making it the third largest metropolitan area in the world. I then moved to Toronto, the most populous city in Canada, at the age of four and resided in the city except for a few years when I went off to do my undergraduate studies. And now that I call Montréal my home, I remain in the metropolis centres of Canada and love the bustle, riding the métro, and stacked apartment living.

However, I recently had the chance to venture to another part of Canada that I had never had the opportunity to visit until now. I hitched a ride to the southern Manitoba and Winnipeg area, which means that I now only have Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the northern territories to cross off on my Canadian destinations list. I had been to the Prairies before, Calgary and Edmonton to be exact, though Alberta is tempered by the beautiful rocky mountains. Manitoba was a completely different type of the Canadian Prairies, however, as it has not expanded in population nor revelled in the oil boom like its Alberta counterpart. This is really how I always imagined the Prairies to be: flat, sparse, and still. And Manitoba truly delivered.
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October means many things for different people: school has started to settle for parents and students, others are excited by Hallowe’en candy, and winter is at the doorstep as per the current weather here in Montréal. For me, I also note that the month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I feel grateful for my health and think about the many families that are impacted by diseases such as breast cancer. As I young child, I knew how the diagnosis of breast cancer can shake a family as my mother was diagnosed with the disease at a young age. After battling cancer for eleven years she succumbed to the illness more than a decade ago.

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This morning was the 23rd Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Montreal Marathon, which started at 8:30 am at Jacques-Cartier Bridge for the half-marathon and full marathon races. I took part in the half-marathon (21 kilometres or 13 miles), and the event drew a record number of runners — 32,000 in total for all races, with 14,000 registered in the half-marathon, and 7,000 for the full-marathon. When we waited in our corrals on the bridge, the runners were getting excited and jumping up and down, and we could feel the bridge shake from the weight of participants! A tad scary, if you ask me. Like other races, the run had staggered starts so by the time our corral was brought to the starting line it was about 8:50 am. The morning called for a 40% chance of precipitation and it was spitting by the time we started the race, but it ended up raining heavily for the first seven kilometres. Rain doesn’t faze me so much as the huge puddles and overflowing streets, but most of the run ended up dry but very cloudy.

I started off great and felt good about the pace I was initially keeping, which was about three minutes slower than my 10K time. However, by the 14th kilometre I slowed down severely — at snail’s pace or about 10% of my previous running speed. I injured my right knee, a new injury, and though I don’t remember what exactly happened and how, I could no longer bend the knee anymore or put much weight on it. It felt sort of like a very old affliction I had in my teens when my right hip became slightly dislocated; my knee was making a similar popping sound as that hip injury, but the pain wasn’t too bad — it just made me slow. So I kept this awfully slow pace for the last 7 kilometres through a very awkward limp-run and by placing most of my weight on my left leg. While the race for me was definitely doable on a cardiovascular and leg work level, I couldn’t run at my limits due to this annoying grievance. At the end it was all about mental gymnastics as I had to talk myself into continuing on with the race and getting through the last third of the run on a limp. Disappointingly but as expected, my race time was actually slower than last year’s run by four minutes. Whatever, I have next year to look forward to!

After crossing the finish line, my friend and I grabbed our checked-in bag and walked home and we passed through the full marathon race continuing through the neighbourhood. When we came home we could actually hear the cheers from the spectators. Because we live in the Plateau we were lucky that we could stagger back home without a car which would have been a nightmare as many of the roads were closed around the city. We showered, replenished ourselves with food and fluids, and were surprised that we weren’t as wiped out as I was last year. I definitely trained better this time around and I’m used to the long distance runs and hill work, but I guess I’ll have to look into what caused my knee injury and probably do some strength work in that area once I give it time to heal.

I guess I made some mistakes with this second half-marathon that resulted in my injury, but I also made a lot of good choices in preparing for this race.

Here’s what I did right this time around:

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It was around midnight when I saw The New York Times’ Twitter feed linked to an article on its opinion page about Angelina Jolie. It read: “Angelina Jolie on why she had a double mastectomy, and how it could save lives.” I clicked on the link.

Reading Jolie’s explanation of her recent decision to undergo a double mastectomy — as a preventative measure against breast cancer — was fuzzy late at night. I had been engrossed in my school work and holding late night vigils in the glow of my laptop, eyes at half mast but open from the effects of too much coffee. Jolie wrote about how, in 2007, her mother died of cancer after a ten-year battle. Jolie had then decided to become tested for the genetic mutation that substantially increases the risk of the carrier of developing breast cancer. The tests confirmed that she did indeed carry a gene mutation and in her case, she had approximately 87% chance of developing the disease. She completed her series of preventative medical procedures and surgeries in April.

Well, both myself and the rest of the world had not been privy to Jolie’s health circumstances until the publishing of her article. For a Hollywood actress and paparazzi magnet such as Jolie, her private life and medical decision had been very carefully under wraps. But she chose to write a public and very moving account of her medical counselling and surgery through her own words and terms. Her article is clear in that her motives are not to broadcast circumstances of her non-acting life to the world but to spark a discussion on women’s health, breast cancer, and cancer prevention.

Jolie’s article comes two days after Mother’s Day was celebrated here in Canada and many other nations abroad. I had sent a message to a friend now living in Hong Kong to wish her a happy first Mother’s Day, then enquired about whether Mother’s Day is actually celebrated in that part of the world. It was, in fact, and her husband took her and their infant son to Hong Kong Disneyland. I laughed at the photo she sent to me of her and her family posing with Mickey Mouse.

On Sunday I was and still am away from my family in Toronto, and spent the day here in Montréal with my head in my books. But I thought about my mother who passed away when I was twenty years old after battling cancer for eleven years. It also happened that I saw a breast cancer surgeon a few days earlier because, as I explained to my boyfriend, it was time again to have old doctor hands feel my boobs in ways no one else has ever felt my boobs.

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We are already half way through November, or for the boys, Movember. I imagine many moustaches are on their way to prime condition.

November means another month and another cancer awareness campaign after October’s Pink Ribbon Campaign. However, since the major controversies surrounding the Susan G. Komen Foundation in the past year, these cancer charity marketing initiatives have been under the microscope and subject to much backlash.

Last month, Margaret Wente’s commentary in The Globe and Mail regarding Breast Cancer Awareness Month carried the exasperated title, “Can We Just Relax About our Breasts?” Ms. Wente posits that the problem with breast cancer awareness is due to the “fear, hysteria and paranoia that people have whipped up around breasts.” She cites “chemophobia” as fuelling “imaginary risks” surrounding breast cancer, and points to Florence Williams’ book Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History as an example of this hysteria.

A few days after Ms. Wente’s article came another submission in The Globe and Mail, this time regarding Movember. Author Amberly McAteer wrote, “[Does] asking people to do something as silly as grow hair trivialize the real, scary issues the Movember movement is trying to elevate?” She also mentioned knowing a few men in the past year who grew Movember moustaches but did not participate in raising any funds for the charity.

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[Photo: rue McGill College, Montréal]

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month here in North America, and this year the pink ribbon is a little tattered.

First, the Susan G. Komen Foundation controversy in the United States brought the issues of breast cancer and charity operations to the forefront. Soon after other contentious charitable breast cancer initiatives came to light, including the recent revelations that the NFL’s pink ribbon efforts only net 5% of proceeds to charity. I have closely followed these particular news items with interest, partially in terms of the debate on the politics of these embroilments, but also in terms of the topics as women’s health issues. I know the public debates on the controversies have been quite lively in the Internet sphere, and many young women joined in the discussion on women’s sites like Jezebel. However, I wondered how these efforts of breast cancer education affect these young women’s knowledge of the disease despite their Internet outrage and opining in the pink ribbon controversies.

Breast cancer affects 1 in 9 Canadian women in their lifetime, meaning that many of us have known someone with breast cancer or have otherwise been personally affected by the disease. Since my family member’s first diagnosis when I was a child, I became interested in learning more about breast cancer and decreasing my risks in developing the disease. However, it seems that many young women are not aware about the risks and symptoms of breast cancer despite the massive efforts at education and involvement. I feel that this is akin to the behaviours of many young people regarding their risks of sexually transmitted infections (STI) — despite massive efforts at public education, many are kind of aware, many are kind of taking steps to prevents transmission, and many are kind of getting tested. STI’s are a much more of an immediate threat for most young people than breast cancer, but breast cancer is a specific risk to women with a very high risk of occurrence during their lifetime. Therefore, I wanted to write this post as, from talking to my friends, it is clear that many young women are not well informed about breast cancer and how certain lifestyle factors can impact the risks in developing the disease.

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