Grace Ban, the Managing Director of the Estee Lauder Companies in Singapore called me a few weeks back to ask if I would be part of the group’s Breast Cancer event. Estee Lauder Companies has been a breast cancer awareness champion for 20 years since Mrs Evelyn Lauder co-founded it with US Self magazine editor Alexandra Penney. Mrs Lauder was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989, and although she did not share deeply about her own experience, she turned something bad into something amazing: she founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and thanks to her, the Pink Ribbon is today the widely-recognised symbol for the fight against breast cancer.
I said yes right away. Grace and I have been friends for a long time, since my days at Female magazine. Also, I had had the immense pleasure of meeting and talking to Mrs Lauder on a trip to New York City once. We talked about breast cancer — my mother had just completed chemotherapy following her second mastectomy. I remember asking Mrs Lauder if she felt stress was a major cause of cancer. She replied, quite crisply, that there had not been any conclusive proof of it (there still isn’t but most doctors will tell you that stress is bad for you). She was an incredibly gracious, yet dynamic woman who had great vision for the Lauder Group and for her cause. It was very saddening to hear of her death in November last year—she passed away from ovarian cancer at the age of 75. This would be my very small way of remembering her.
The Global Illumination Initiative which began in 2000 is an annual event that happens in the month of October. All around the world, the Estee Lauder Companies light up famous building in a pink glow every year in October. Buildings from the Empire State Building in New York to the Taj Mahal in India have participated in this incredible event. This year in Singapore, it was the Art Science Museum and Helix Bridge at Marina Bay Sands, and this year’s theme was Courage.
Initially I was told I would be opening the catwalk show with MediaCorp actor Nick Shen. I have to confess that had me all worried because I didn’t want to look like some middle-aged lady next to a pretty boy! (No offence, Nick Shen!) Having worked in MediaCorp for more than half my career I knew better than to stand next to a Channel 8 actor—he usually has the waistline of a 13-year-old girl.
So when I was told two days before the event that Nick Shen was not able to make the event, and asked if one of my children would accompany me, I was beside myself with joy. If I could, I would have had all three of them come with me. Big B would be in school till late afternoon that Friday (plus he is extremely shy) and Little B was at school camp. So I asked Middle B if she would do the honours. Actually, I told her she was coming with me. She gave me a stunned look, but I knew she wouldn’t say no. Middle B is just 11 but she’s now officially taller than me at 1.6m — two whole centimeters taller than her mom. There wasn’t a clothes sponsor for her, so we rustled up a pink dress and a pair of pink ballet flats, and she was all set.
On the afternoon of 5 October, we gathered with the other models and their partners at Marina Bay Sands, where the Estee Lauder team ushered us into a secret passageway and into a dressing room. Jerome, our stylist, had already picked out outfits from Robinsons for each of the models in the previous few weeks.
It was great meeting the team from Lauder and the ladies from BCF. We would be made over by the team from Bobbi Brown, all very swish in their black outfits and toting multi-compartment metal cases of fabulous makeup.
I met Irene and Wai Fong and many of the lovely ladies who would be modelling along with Beth and I that evening. Our conversation was really funny.
Irene: What stage were you?
Irene: Oh, that’s good.
Me: But I had a mastectomy and recon.
Irene: Me too! One mastec, two mastec. Did you do the TRAM Flap?
Irene: Good right? I also had the TRAM Flap with the first one, second one was from the back (Latissimus Dorsi Flap).
It sounded a little like we were talking about golf games or the cars we owned. But it felt good being able to just talk about it openly with women who had been through what I’d been through, without grossing anyone out.
We went out to the venue to do a short rehearsal. The catwalk choreo was simple: The stage was T shaped, and we just had to make an L, pose and an then a “reverse” L. But we had to decide what we were going to do when we posed.
Middle B had a major case of nerves. We had to figure out if we were going to hug, kiss, twirl, dance, jitterbug for our pose. She backed out of every single suggestion till we finally decided we would just twirl one another and curtsey. It would be easy to remember and we wouldn’t trip over one another.
We finally returned to the dressing room where we started having our hair and makeup done.
Middle B had a great time having her face done. I’m not usually in favour of makeup on girls under the age of 18 but this was a special occasion. Her makeup artist did a lovely job and she was very happy.
The hair team were a wonderful lot. Middle B’s stylist had a speech impediment but his cheery wackiness left an impression on her. It was suggested to her that her hair be tied into ponytail, at which she recoiled in horror. So they obliged her and gave her angelic curls at the ends. When she was done, she looked like a real teenager!
To tone down her “grown-up-ness”, Jerome clipped on a pink flower hairpiece which made her instantly adorable but no less gorgeous.
As for me, I had tried on about eight outfits for Jerome previous to the day. He picked out a hot-pink Mad Men-inspired sweetheart-collar Coast dress with a pencil skirt for me. I liked the way I looked in it. I don’t have any high heels shoes left that I can actually walk in, and so Nancy Thong from the Lauder team loaned me her wedding shoes! Now that’s dedication!
Dinner arrived at the dressing room: delicious Cedele dinner boxes filled with pasta cups and gourmet sandwiches! We all needed a lip touch-up after scarfing our meals!
The host of the evening Sharon Au came in and practiced her lines as she was having her makeup done. Beth and I had a short chat with her and she was just lovely! She prepped us for the questions she was going to ask me and then we started taking pictures and the whole room just went berserk with photo-taking!
At 6.45 we made our way up to the event venue. Guests had started to arrive. My sweet mother-in-law and Big B took the MRT to Marina Bay Sands! We met up and took endless photos. Very soon the guest of honour and other special people had arrived.
Mayor Amy Khor, Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and in the Ministry of Manpower, was the GOH and she looked as fit and resplendent as always in a pink dress. Mrs Noor Quek, the president of the Breast Cancer Foundation was a sight for sore eyes in her black outfit with a hot pink Issey Miyake tunic. And pretty as I have always remembered her, the managing director of the Estee Lauder Companies in Singapore, Grace Ban, floated in in a girlish pale pink dress.
The evening kicked off with a touching video on the life and work of the late Mrs Evelyn Lauder, how she had founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and started the Pink Ribbon movement which is today such a global symbol of the hope of a cure for breast cancer. Her dedication to and passion for discovering a way to prevent breast cancer, to find a true cure for this disease touched my heart as I know it did many others that night.
The Pink Runners commenced the lightup by running across Helix Bridge, each arch of the bridge turning pink as they ran under it. They handed the torch over to Dr Khor, Noor, Grace and Sharon, who together lit up the Art Science Museum. It was a real sight to behold, the “waterlily” bathed in pink, the Estee Lauder Companies logo “stamped” in white across it.
Grace told the audience about the heart of ELC for the cause, while Noor gave a resounding speech about the collaboration between ELC and BCF — the Foundation features a Estee Lauder room where breast cancer patients can visit to get fitted with prosthetics, wigs, and have their makeup done. There’s also a cosy room if someone needs a heart-to-heart or a good cry. The room is a welcome haven for those undergoing treatment, who aren’t exactly feeling their best.
In a very special section of the evening, the marvelous Japanese artist Takeshi Sato created a stunning portrait of Mrs Lauder in a matter of strokes, to the rhythm of a piece of music. It was enthralling to behold the image appear on the canvas, as if by magic.
“I can’t believe he did that!” breathed Middle B, her eyes wide with wonder.
Dr Khor took to the stage to talk about the importance of women looking after themselves. We’re the caregivers in the family, we have to make sure we stay in good shape to keep looking after our loved ones. The woman runs every day to keep fit! It’s probably her secret to holding two huge portfolios and being a wife and mother to three children at the same time.
Jerome cued us “models” to get in line, and when Dr Khor stepped down the stage, it was our time to go up. Middle B’s hand was icy in mine. “I’m not scared. I’m not scared,” she muttered to herself in terror, before looking at me. “You’ll go with me, right?” Of course, Princess! You and me together.
Middle B and I opened the show, to the loud cheers and whistles of the crowd, which comprised not a few (extremely supportive) Breast Cancer Foundation members. We twirled one another, and then we curtseyed, and my daughter was just graceful and lovely on stage and she made me so proud.
The other models were stunning. There was the lovely and very young Ivy, and her best friend Pearlyn. Ivy had emailed me after reading this blog in 2010, when she discovered she had cancer—she’s only in her late 20s. It was amazing and immensely touching to me when she came up to talk to me and to remind me of our email exchanges. I was so, so glad to see how wonderful she looked.
There was Rosemary and her daughter Isabelle, a mother-daughter team that was absolutely beautiful and gentle-spirited. Wai Fong and her sweet husband, the very picture of love. Irene and her handsome shy son, the perfect foil to his dynamic mother. And many other lovely sisters, mothers, husbands and wives, all of them heroes.
We re-entered the stage and Sharon had a short “interview” with me about my upcoming book, and about the importance of family support. Suddenly, she turned to Middle B and asked her how she felt. My 11-year-old froze completely, saved only by her million-dollar smile. But we could feel the love from the audience, who clearly thought she was rather cute and a wonderful support to her mommy.
Irene was the other interviewee, and she shared freely about overcoming breast cancer twice. Her son, too, was put on the spot and scraped by with short, shy answers. I thought he was adorable and I wasn’t alone in my view.
It was altogether a wonderful evening. Happy chatting continued over pink champagne and yummy canapes, and I caught up with some great old friends. But the best part of it all was having Mr Threez, Big B and Middle B and my mother-in-law there to celebrate with me, and especially being able to create such an awesome memory of being on stage with my daughter.
Thank you Estee Lauder Companies for the amazing experience.