S'pore breast surgeon on why he is fit but not fabulous

PHOTO: S'pore breast surgeon on why he is fit but not fabulous

SINGAPORE - Although it may be so for most people, it is not the physical challenge of riding a motorcycle for up to 500km a day over the next three months which keeps Associate Professor Mikael Hartman up at night.

After all, the 47-year-old considers himself an optimist who tends to see the glass as half full. No, he is more worried about navigating unfamiliar roads and deciphering vague traffic rules, which is why he aims to ride safely and heed any signs of fatigue from his body to rest.

He is one of two associate professors from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine who are taking breast cancer education to the road, by riding more than 23,000km through 17 countries in Asia and Europe.

His fellow bike enthusiast and colleague, Prof Philip Lau, lectures at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health. The Long Ride kicked off last

Tuesday at the National University Health System in Kent Ridge.

The duo aims to increase the awareness of breast cancer and raise money to fund research into the disease, which accounts for almost 30 per cent of all cancers diagnosed in Singapore. So far, some $3 million has been raised through donations and sponsorships, all of which goes to the Breast Cancer Research Fund administered by the university.

They will stop along the way to conduct lectures, surgical demonstrations and public health symposiums in various cities.

Prof Hartman, a Swedish national, moved to Singapore with his family in December 2008 to work as a breast surgeon. His 48-year-old wife is self-employed and they have three children aged between 14 and 18.

He leads the development of the Singapore Breast Cancer Cohort and the Singapore-Malaysia Breast Cancer Working Group.

Before this, the longest journey he had undertaken on his bike was a 500km, four-day round-trip from Singapore to Malaysia. He reasoned: "If I can do that, I'll just have to do it over and over again for the next few months."

He stands 1.9m tall and weighs 80kg.

How do you keep fit?

Once or twice a week, I go mountain biking in areas such as Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Pulau Ubin.

I alternate my sessions with two groups of mountain biking enthusiasts and we cover 25km to 55km in each session. About once a month, I also play tennis or squash.

When I am back in Sweden, which is about four times a year, my choice of exercise depends on the season. In the winter, it will be downhill skiing and cross-country skiing. In the warmer months from April to October, it would be sailing, mountain biking and racquet sports.

I grew up playing ice hockey and football and have tried a variety of sports, depending on where I am and what is available.

I get restless and bored easily so I try to keep myself busy this way.

How has your exercise regimen changed over the years?

As the expiry date for most of my body parts is looming, I have reduced the intensity of my exercises. For instance, I have moved away from playing high-impact sports, such as ice hockey, to skiing. When I stopped running about five years ago, I took up mountain biking.

What is your secret to looking fabulous?

Stay fit, focused and sharp. I once resolved never to let my children beat me at sports but, honestly, this is now wishful thinking.

As I grow older and they grow bigger, I have conceded defeat.

Has there been a time when you were not fit and fabulous?

I have been reasonably fit most of the time, although I would think I am "unfabulous". Coming home looking like a mud pie after mountain biking is a sight that only a mother or my wife, can love.

What is your diet like?

I have fruit for breakfast, sometimes, chicken rice for lunch and usually homecooked dinners. My wife can cook a variety of cuisines, from Swedish to Vietnamese and Thai dishes.

I never had to count my calories as I think I am lucky to have a body which does not put on weight easily.

For a week each month, I am on on-call duty at the hospital, which means I eat whenever I can spare the time and depending on what I can get such as fast food, candy or soft drinks. I would then have vegetables during that weekend.

What are your indulgences?

Many - but mostly wine. My family has a vineyard in Oregon, United States, where I learnt a lot about wine. I really enjoy a nice bottle of the pinot noir (red wine).

How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

I spend time with my family, do nothing or annoy my children.

What are the three most important things in your life?

Family, health and happiness. Family is my anchor in life. Once you leave your hometown, your family defines who you are a little bit more.

I work in the health-care sector, so I regularly see people suffering from diseases and, therefore, know the importance of being healthy.

Achieving happiness stems from your outlook in life.

Would you go for plastic surgery?

No, unless that particular feature affects my bodily function. For example, if my eyelids are drooping so much that they affect my vision and I can no longer be a surgeon then, yes, I'll probably go for plastic surgery.

I honestly feel that an ageing face shows character and can be attractive.

Do you think you are sexy?

I probably had an answer to this question once, based on a sexiness scale of one to 10, but I have long forgotten what it was.

It really depends on my mood, I guess. Say, for a Monday morning, I'd probably feel "unsexy" at one but on a Friday night, the score would go beyond the maximum of 10.

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