Illuminating Breast Cancer Awareness With Estee Lauder

The Helix Bridge and Art Science Museum awash in pink on 5 October. (Photo by Daniel Poh)

On 5 October, I had the distinct privilege of “modelling” at Estee Lauder’s Pink Ribbon Global Illumination Event with Middle B.

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.

Harrod's of London and the Sydney Opera House all dressed up in pink on Global Illumination Day.

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?
Me: DCIS.
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?
Me: Ya.
Irene: Good right? I also had the TRAM Flap with the first one, second one was from the back (Latissimus Dorsi Flap).
Me: Wow…

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.

Middle B loved the water lilies at the Art Science Museum


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.

Posing after rehearsals.

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.

Middle B getting a touch of Bobbi Brown eyeshadow.

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!

She loves her curls just so.

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!

A rosemary chicken sandwich, pasta and veg salad and a teacake from Cedele.

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!

Sharon Au was such a hoot!

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 in action. (Photo by Daniel Poh)


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.

The moment MBS turned pink!

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.

Takeshi Sato’s amazing portrait of Mrs Lauder.


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.

A moment I’ll remember forever: being on stage with my daughter.


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.

Having a fun chat with Sharon. (Photo by Daniel Poh)


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.

A highlight of my day: meeting Ivy, one of my “blog gang girls” who had written to me via this blog in 2010. So gratifying to see her healthy and luminous!

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.

With Dr Amy Khor, a woman I deeply admire, who finds time to run every day before she goes out to save the world.

All the models gather with Jerome (front).

Thank you Estee Lauder Companies for the amazing experience.

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Celebrate Courage! Get This Gorgeous Bracelet!

Me and Janice (center) and Carrie in the FIJI Water Courage Harness campaign shot—I love wearing it as a bracelet!

A couple of months ago, I received an email from a PR agency called Food News. I was asked if I would consider being an ambassador for the new FIJI Water Courage Harness campaign.

My fellow ambassadors would be Carolyn Kan of artisanal jewelry brand Carrie K, and Janice Wong, the marvelous chef from the famed 2am:dessertbar

Of course I said yes, mostly because I love novel ideas and the chance to work with three artisans—FIJI Water (the softest, smoothest bottled water on the face of this earth), Janice whose creativity has won her countless accolades and awards, and Carrie, who I first met when she was 16 and my brother was kind of smitten with her, who has gone from being an advertising honcho to a seriously gifted jeweler.

So I tried to strap on another bottle with this harness and it didn't look as good ...

Carrie created this gorgeous leather strap “harness”, inspired by ancient battle wear, as a multi-purpose fashion accessory. It can be used as a bottle carrier, a necklace, a choker, a bracelet and possibly the coolest lanyard in existence.

Two silver charms adorn the black braided leather strap, Carrie’s insignia of a crown, which I love, because aren’t we all the kings and queens of our lives? And the other is a lion’s paw, a symbol of courage.

All proceeds from the sale of the limited edition harness go to the Breast Cancer Foundation.

This week, Carrie, Janice and I went on radio to talk about the harness.

On Tuesday morning, we were at MediaCorp’s News 938Live, on The Living Room with Keith de Souza and Howie Lim. I was in their studio half a year ago after the Singapore Woman Award and it was good seeing them again.

Keith was rather fascinated with the bracelet, so Howie tried it on him (unsuccessfully). Carrie jumped in and dressed his wrist and he looked really good wearing it—very rocker!

In the studio with News 938's The Living Room duo, Keith & Howie

We had a good chat and I was really moved to hear Janice share about her chef friend in LA, who was 27 when she discovered she had breast cancer. Janice flew to the US to spend time with her as she underwent treatment. It’s such a shocker to hear that someone so young and healthy getting stricken with breast cancer. This cursed disease must be destroyed. We must keep fighting till the cure is found.

Yesterday, Carrie and I went to SPH’s new station for women, Kiss 92 FM and met the crazy Jason Johnson, chirpy Maddy Barber and serious Arnold Gay. Jason insisted that the harness was really a whip, so I obliged him *laugh*

Maddy asked a super serious first question: “What does love mean to you?”

Of course, the first answer off the top of my head was the good old line from Love Story: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But nothing could be further from the truth of course, hahahahaa….

The next thought I had was “Perfect love casts out all fear.” So I replied, “Love means never being afraid.”

When I said it, it sounded so serious, so “poetic”, even a bit pretentious (let’s be honest). But as I thought about it the rest of the day, it really is true, isn’t it? If you truly love with all your heart, you’ll never be afraid of anything—not even loss, disease, death. The love you have had, that can never be taken away from you.

Anyway, we had a rollicking good time. Carrie’s passionate explanation of how her sister Geri went through cancer and beat it on her own terms was incredibly moving. Geri worked throughout her diagnosis and cancer treatments—she never let her illness become an excuse for not living life to the fullest. I don’t have that kind of strength—I took my time out from work quite seriously. So to hear how Geri bravely carried on was just amazing to me.

Jason looks like the Godfather here...

I hope that the radio appearances were powerful in leading people to buy this great harness. I love the fact it is black (not pink — sorry, much harder to match). I love the way it looks on my wrist. I plan to wear it all year round.

Do buy this lovely and meaningful accessory for yourself or for someone you love. Only 120 pieces available, and all proceeds go to BCF. Priced at $128 at Antoinette (yes the divine French patisseries) or at Carrie’s atelier at 136 Bukit Timah Road (call 6735 4036 for an appointment). You can also buy it online at www.carriekrocks.com (online price is inclusive of shipping).

The Reason For The Long Silence: MY BOOK IS DONE!

My proof-reading copy of the manuscript. No this is NOT the cover!


I had the idea to write a book about my cancer experience about a year and a half ago when it struck me that getting so many people emailing me to ask all sorts of questions about breast cancer was a sign that there wasn’t enough information (or easily-found information) out there on what I had experienced.

I thought it would take me, oh, maybe three months to complete it. After all I am a professional writer and editor so what’s a three month deadline?

Three months turned into 18.

My poor publisher Chin Kar waited a long time for this manuscript. When I finally delivered the first (extremely choppy and unpolished) version in April this year, I think the poor man got a rude shock. Very gently, he broke the news to me that there was no way he was going to publish that, and that I simply had to rewrite “some parts”.

“Some parts” turned into 75% of the book.

It was a struggle, but I basically started all over again in May. I ripped apart what I had previously written, took into serious account what Chin Kar had wisely advised me to change, rewrote parts, wrote new ones, and what was meant to be a 10-chapter book turned out to be 37 chapters long, divided into three parts.

There were moments I wanted to give up. It was just too hard, and when it comes to writing, I am easily discouraged. If something isn’t “coming together” quickly enough, I begin to think, “It’s not meant to be.”

I can’t go into details about how I decided to carry on, but I will share that one day, after praying, I wrote myself this note on a yellow Post-It and stuck it in front of my desk to remind myself why I was putting myself through such agony.

That note kicked my butt every day. And every day (or as many days in a week as I could squeeze time out of) I wrote.

Finally, the day came. I finished my manuscript. I sent it off to Chin Kar, who read it in one day and sent back his corrections that same day. Awesome feat. He is a very dedicated publisher, and I am blessed.

Next I had to invite people I respected and liked to “endorse” my book. I hate the word “endorsement”, it makes me think of some poor TV actress holding a bottle of sugary drink in a poster, claiming that she loves it (when clearly, she wouldn’t touch that stuff if you fed it to her through a 24-carat gold straw).

So I worded my requests very carefully, and so far, all of them have said yes.

As I write this now, I am awaiting the final few. Some of them have made me cry.

Pretty pink cover makeup by Charmaine. How to not love someone who makes you look younger and fresher?

Today I had a fun day doing the shoot for my book cover. I can’t give away what it’s going to look like, you’ll see it soon enough. But I can show you what my makeup looked like—I do love it, I look pretty and modern and maybe 5 years younger!

Next, comes the full manuscript with all the forewords and backwords and cover, and then it’s off to print.

We’re scheduled for a November release. Stay tuned!

PS Today, 4 October, is my late mother’s birthday. She would have been 73 today. Thinking of you with a heart full of love, Mom!

All Clear: 2 Years On

Last Thursday I went back for my now-annual checkup with my favourite breast specialist in the world, Dr Hoe Ah Leong.

That was after nearly 4 hours of ultrasounds and X-rays and the mammogram and waiting around for my films and report.

The mammogram technologist that served me was so funny. Whenever I go back for my scans, I need to bring my old films so that the doctors who write up the reports have a comparison, and so would my surgeon. The technologist, a pretty young Filipina, shook my old films out, and stood, stunned for 20 seconds.

“Ma’am, you did your mammogram last year?”
“Yep.”
“How come I only have your films for one breast, there should be films for two.”
“I wish there was two. I had a mastectomy in 2010, my dear.”
“OHHHHH!” Pause. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

I must have unnerved her because as she was positioning me for the mammogram on my left breast she kept failing to get my boob in the right position. She knocked my collarbone. She pinched my armpit. She raised the plate. She lowered the plate. Finally, she just squashed it as much as she could and took the darn shot. I could have told her she didn’t press the plates down hard enough. (True enough Dr Hoe later said, “Hmm, this mammogram is a bit fuzzy at the bottom.”)

Next was the ultrasound. My doctor had ordered up scans for my breast, my liver and my gall bladder. There’s something about an ultrasound scan that always makes me edgy. Especially if the technologist is scarily silent. Good thing i got another chatty PInoy girl. Still, the few moments she rolled over one spot from every angle made my heart skip a beat.

After the long wait for my films and reports, I hoofed it to Dr Hoe’s clinic on the third floor of the main medical centre.

Christine, the nurse who christened me Liang Po Po two years ago, took one look at me and said, “How about you go and take a nice long tea break?”

My buttocks were complaining that I was oppressing them with so much sitting down, but I took a look at the two poor teenagers asleep on the waiting area couch as their mother and father waited to see Dr Hoe, and I made an about-turn and went to get a coffee from Delifrance.

Finally at 5.45pm I saw my beloved doctor, looking as cheery as ever, with his ubiquitous blue shirt as neat as it probably had been at 8am.

“You look good, Theresa!”
“You too, Dr Hoe!”
We grinned at one another.
“Okay, so your reports look good. Come come, let’s take a look.”

One thing I love about Dr Hoe is how he operates like a teacher. My mammograms, chest X-ray and ultrasound scans were all clipped up on the lightbox for examination.

There is a single calcification in my left breast, which had been there last year too. Calcifications are not a good sign if they appear in a cluster. My right breast mammogram, two years ago, was peppered with large clusters of calcifications especially just above the nipple area.

“But this single calcification is all right, nothing to worry about,” he assured me.

For breast cancer patients, if cancer recurs, it would usually be in the other breast, the lungs, or the organs nearest to the breast area, like the liver and gall bladder.

All my scans were clear. The only thing of note was that I had a little cyst in my left breast, which also showed up in last year’s scans.

“Probably a fatty piece,” said Dr Hoe with such confidence that any worry I had melted away.

With the help of his nurse, I lay on the examination bed while he palpated my breast, neck and armpit areas. There are also instances where lumps form in the neck or armpit, “but your lymph nodes were clear—remember we did the test on the sentinel nodes. DCIS prognosis is excellent.”

I was deeply happy to hear all he said. Some days, I admit, I take my survival for granted. Some days, I forget, had I not acted on the weird pain my breast, I might be facing a very different today.

True, every time I see Dr Hoe I am reminded that cancer could recur. Some days, that casts a shadow over my heart.

But I thank God that I have Him—and truly, I am living on time that He has so kindly given me. I am determined to make the best use of it as I can, but I am also peaceful, knowing “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

730 Gifted Days

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Despite the pains of Internet connection in the middle of Healesville, Melbourne, I cannot let today end without a shout of joy and a holler of gratitude to my God who sustains me and keeps me alive to enjoy all I have…especially a family vacation, the five of us in the gorgeous Yarra region of Victoria.

Today marks two years since I woke up with that pain in my breast that would turn out to be cancer. Right now I am nursing a very different kind of pain: I am sitting in bed with a koyok stuck to my neck and shoulder, having strained my neck sleeping with two dancing princesses two nights ago ( or shall I say, kungfu…princesses)?

A better pain any day!

So happy to be alive!
So happy to be able to enjoy my family!
So happy to have the opportunity to cook and do laundry and eat popcorn by the fire with my 3 kittens!
So happy to listen to my hubby explain why Vibram Five Fingers are better than Nike anything (and not necessarily agreeing)!
So happy to know God loves me so much I get the gift of every day!

So happy I can blog from my iPad and express my gratitude.

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Farewell, Emma, See You Again

Last night at 12.10am Emma Yong passed away.

Words are pathetic, ineffective, lacking, a rough-hewn tool to express what so many hearts and souls are experiencing now: the loss felt by her husband, her family, her friends, her community, her country — the lives, the stages, the atmospheres she lit up with her Tinkerbell voice and indefatigable hope.

My first memory of her will ever be my favourite. Emma in her RJC uniform standing behind the counter at her aunty’s comicbook shop on the second floor of Serene Centre, calling me “Aunty Theresa” (cough, sputter — I was merely 27 to her 18), asking if she should pursue theatre overseas or locally.

I am glad she brought her immense talent home. We never spoke much after that, but she made her dreams come true and for that I was so, so glad.

She gave of her face and her fame to an anti-trafficking campaign I ran for my women’s group, Women Make a Difference, together with the other two precious Dollies, Selena and Pam.

Cancer might think it’s won this round, Emma, but I believe you ultimately won the battle you so valiantly fought. I believe God heard your prayers, and I believe I will see you again, singing in your gorgeous Tinkerbell voice with the angels as your backup.

The Singapore Woman Award: Beauty For Ashes

It started with a Facebook message from my friend Sarah, whom I got to know as a volunteer writer for the church news website, which I serve on as editor.

She asked if she could nominate me for the Singapore Woman Award, a people’s award run by MediaCorp, this year headed, as it has for the last three years, by Radio.

I laughed when I saw her message – don’t get me wrong, I love Sarah, I was so honored and touched that she’d even thought of me – because what Sarah didn’t know was that I was on the planning committee for the very first Singapore Woman Award, when I was the editor of Vanilla magazine and we helmed the award.

I said yes to Sarah, making a mental note to have coffee with her soon, and forgot all about it.

A few weeks later, I was having dinner with my family when my phone rang. I never pick up my phone during dinner, so that itself was a miracle. On top of that, it was an unknown number.

It was Jo’An from MediaCorp, who chirpily congratulated me for being one of the three honorees selected. I didn’t know what it meant at first, until she said “You and two other nominees were selected out of over 100 entries to be our top three.”

Ohhh. Now I was in shock. Jo’An told me she would be in touch about the interviews that had to be done before the event night, which was on 22 March.

I hung up and looked at my son. “Hey, I’m one of the top three nominees for the Singapore Woman Award.”

He raised his eyebrows and gave me a lopsided grin. “Cool.”

When I told my 11-year-old, she said with confidence, “You’re going to win, Mom.”

When I told my husband, he said “Let’s go and celebrate!” (We went out for wings and beer that Friday.)

All this before I even knew who the other honorees were. I already felt like a winner to my family, and it was all that mattered. It didn’t even occur to me to ask who the other two ladies were.

But when I did find out, I was pretty much flummoxed by how I even made the top three. One was Bridget Tan (whom I knew as Bridget Lew Tan), the founder of HOME (Human Organisation for Migrant Economics), who passionately fights for the rights of migrant workers in Singapore, and the other was Cassandra Chiu, a woman who lost her sight at the age of eight but who now runs a counselling practice called The Safe Harbour.

I mean, hello! If there was a class lighter than “flyweight”, that’s what I felt like next to these women.

Over the next two weeks the three of us came together to speak on radio shows (Gold 90.5 and Class 95) and TV (AM Live), and as we did, I got to know my co-honorees better.

Cassandra in the Gold 90.5FM studio with Gurmit Singh (Mark and Brian Richmond were there too)

Cassandra in the Gold 90.5FM studio with Gurmit Singh (Mark and Brian Richmond were there too)


Cassandra’s story blew me away. She was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease at the age of 8 and began losing her sight. Taunted and teased by her classmates, she didn’t have an easy childhood, but her mother constantly reminded her not to focus on her one disability but on her many other capabilities. She represented Singapore as a swimmer, and busked for 10 years, earning enough to put herself through school to get her Master’s degree. When nobody would give her a job, she decided she would start a counseling practice to make a living helping others.

But the thing she said she was proudest of was the fact she was a mother. Her little daughter Cady is six, just like my Little B. During the commercial break at one of our radio interviews, we sat chatting about motherhood. As if she could read my mind, she said, “My mother never got rid of me when she knew I had this illness. Besides, if Cady has it (Stargardt’s), I’m the best possible mother for her because I can guide her through this.”

Those words just struck my heart like an arrow. Her deep faith, her mental strength, her ability to see the good in every situation — it truly amazed me! I’ll be honest — if I could vote, Cassandra would get my vote for the Singapore Woman Award.

(From left) SWA 2011 winner Bernise Ang with Cassandra, Esme, me and Bridget
Bridget’s work I was a little more familiar with. The first year I co-founded Women Make A Difference, a women’s group that got women together to raise funds to help those in need, we raised funds for women and children who were trafficked. Bridget had started HOME for about two years, and already she was helping women who had been trafficked into Singapore, including a young 16 year old girl who had been forced to service hundreds of foreign workers. The girl, when rescued, could not speak for months. Bridget and her team patiently worked with her, giving her shelter, friendship and security, till finally she opened up.

WMD gave its first year funds to HOME to help pay for its rental. It was only for three months’ rental but it was our small gesture to show our support for her work, which has grown into two centres — one for women and one for men. Her unflagging fight against trafficking was noticed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called her a “Trafficking-In-Persons Hero”.

My video playing in the Island Ballroom. Photo: Daniel Poh

My video playing in the Island Ballroom. Photo: Daniel Poh


The Awards Night, held at the Island Ballroom of the Shangri-La Hotel, was like a high school reunion for me. Having worked for MediaCorp three periods of my life — I was an Arts writer for 8 Days (1991-1994), the editor-in-chief for ELLE (1999-2002) and finally I was editor for Vanilla (2007-2009). I enjoyed meeting my old friends, like Hossan Leong and Charles Ho (both of whom I worked with on my last public play, ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky, with The Necessary Stage); Rose Tan, Mark Richmond, Georgina Chang, Pierre Png, Florence Lian, Vernetta Lopez… Lovely people who I have had the privilege of interviewing or working with in one way or another.

My kids and mom-in-law with Pierre Png, Gurmit Singh and Mark Richmond.

My kids and mom-in-law with Pierre Png, Gurmit Singh and Mark Richmond.


It was marvelous to see Laura Hwang, who was on our judging panel the first year and who remains on the panel, this year the head judge. Elim Chew, my sister-in-Christ and a friend I deeply treasure. Saleemah Ismail, my woman-power buddy and former President of UNIFEM, who opened my eyes to the atrocities around us and to the things we can do to help women and children.

With Mr Threez, Big B and Middle B. Photo: Daniel Poh

With Mr Threez, Big B and Middle B. Photo: Daniel Poh


But the people I was happiest to see were those seated at my table. MediaCorp so kindly provided each of the honorees their own table — we could invite 7 guests and our tables were each hosted by two MediaCorp personalities. My very special guests were my husband, my mother-in-law, Big B (looking so handsome in a brand new POA shirt I bought him that afternoon) and Middle B, my best friend Karen (what a rare treat! Our schedules are too crazy for regular meet-ups), Sarah my nominator, and Yung Shin, my colleague from City News, who did a wonderful interview with me after. I did consider bringing Little B but she wouldn’t have had the patience to sit all night, way past her bedtime. *I missed her*

She who started it all: Sarah Teo

She who started it all: Sarah Teo. Photo: Daniel Poh

Pierre and Georgina were the two MediaCorp personalities assigned to our table. I was chuffed to sit with Pierre — it seemed a lifetime ago when he first came to our ELLE office, intimidated by our (admittedly) beautiful, well-dressed and well-educated team of women. He was such a different young man then, before Singapore discovered what a model of true love he stood for, when he donated part of his liver to save his then-girlfriend Andrea D’Cruz, now his wife. Andrea I had known since my earlier days as editor of Female, when she was one of our 50 most gorgeous women. They are one of the most beautiful and loving couples I have ever witnessed. Andrea was one of the first to leave me an encouraging comment on this blog — I was truly touched by her words.

With my sweetest, deepest, lovingest best friend Karen Tan, the most talented actress in the world.

With my sweetest, deepest, lovingest best friend Karen Tan, the most talented actress in the world. Photo: Daniel Poh


To have my bestie with me was such a treat. She caught my eye and laughed when the videos were screened. It was so obvious to her too, that it was crazy to even be in the running against a crusader like Bridget and an overcomer like Cassandra. I mean, what had I done? I started a blog. I spoke about closing the gaps in insurance policies. It seemed to me… so insignificant, compared to my co-honorees. But I was glad, so glad in my heart, that God and the judging panel saw fit to put me there among the three. I didn’t think I was going to win, but it really didn’t matter, because I had already received such a reward, which was this night!

So it came as a complete surprise — shock! — to me when the judging video came on. It was Laura, speaking about this year’s competition, and how stuck the panel was when it came to selecting one winner, and so… THEY SELECTED THREE!

My brain hadn’t caught up yet, but I was staring at Karen and she was mouthing, “You won!” And I remember frowning and thinking, “Huh? What’s going on?”

Mr Threez said, “You all won!” And it dawned on me, that there were THREE winners of the Singapore Woman Award!

As I got up, my husband kissed me. Then Pierre took my hand and said, “You have to hold my hand. I’m freezing!” And we walked to the stage together with Gurmit Singh escorting Bridget and Tay Peng Hui guiding Cassandra and her seeing-eye Labrador Esme.

I know it sounds cheesy but my heart really did overflow with thanksgiving. I knew God and only God could have worked this out that all three of us were the winner. Because each of us is so different, and the work He has given us to do and the strength He has given us to do it with is worth celebrating. Standing there on stage, I prayed that my words would glorify Him.

Three winners for this year's Singapore Woman Award - praise God!

Three winners for this year's Singapore Woman Award - praise God! Photo: Daniel Poh


Each of us got to say a few words, clutching the glass trophies that Guest-of-Honour Madam Halimah Yacob presented to us. Cassandra was ever eloquent, expressing her thanks that all three of us won. Bridget held her award up and said, “This is a political statement. It is not just an award for me, but for all the women in HOME, this is your award!”

I was, honestly, still stunned, and said so. Then I thanked God I was alive today and standing here. To my surprise, the room cheered and clapped.

When I got back to my table, Karen was weeping (and smiling). Later, she said, “You know, when you thanked God you’re alive, I remembered how scared I was when you told me…”

It’s been nearly two years, but some memories are as vivid as the moment they happened. I am grateful that God has given us more years to be besties — I pray we’ll make the most of it!

Middle B, looking so beautiful, was so proud of me. I have to say that’s one of the best feelings in the world, when your children aren’t embarrassed you’re their parent! “You should have been the only winner,” she said, in her innocence.

Receiving my award from the authentic and brilliant Minister of State, Madam Halimah Yacob

Receiving my award from the authentic and brilliant Minister of State, Madam Halimah Yacob. Photo: Daniel Poh


The rest of the evening was a time of mass hugging and photo-taking. I was glad to have time to chat with Madam Halimah — who surely must become one of our women Ministers soon, now that we are severely lacking one — and to introduce her to my husband.

We came home, all happy, kids all sleepy but in a good mood. As I floated off to sleep, I thanked God for His lovely present. Truly the words of Isaiah 61:3 came true for me tonight.

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”

He gave me beauty for my ashes; joy for my mourning.

For every woman who passes through this blog, who is suffering in one way or another, I dedicate this award to you.

Post-Script:

The following week, Bridget, Cassandra and I returned to 938 Live to do a radio interview with Howie Lim and Keith De Souza. As the ladies and I sat in the waiting room chatting, we discovered we were all convent girls — Bridget was from KC, Cassandra from IJ Bukit Timah, and I was a Canossa Convent-St Anthony’s girl. They are both Catholic, I a Christian, and all we do — we realise after sharing — we do for God. It tickled me as much as it warmed my heart to know that God was working through the three of us, in such different yet such similar ways.

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