The Making Of: My Breast Cancer Story In Lifewise Magazine

The cover of Lifewise, Sept/Oct 2010

My ex-boss Agatha Koh-Brazil (the woman responsible for encouraging me to be bold in the way I write, having been my boss at 8 Days, M3 and ETC magazines) came to visit me two weeks after my breast cancer surgery, together with my good friend and former colleague Joyce Lim.

I told them my gory story, and then Joyce told me hers (she had a bypass surgery done in January and showed off her scars to me — very macho I must say).

A week later, Aggie calls me and asks if I would agree to be interviewed for a custom magazine that she was helming, called Lifewise. It’s a publication for the National Healthcare Group.

Of course, one does not say no to Agatha Koh-Brazil. She has the skills of a hostage negotiator.

Assistant editor Nellie Tay emails me a list of questions, which I quickly answer, and then she warns me there will be a photo shoot soon.

About a month later, I am summoned to MediaCorp Publishing’s new office at the old radio building on top of Caldecott Hill. It was a highly nostalgic and dusty hike for me to go back there, seeing that I used to weave in and out of those studios during my rookie term at 8 Days. And having just left MediaCorp after Vanilla less than 2 years ago, many of my old friends could still be found in the hallowed hallways of Caldecott Hill.

The infamous (haunted) MediaCorp Publishing photo studio, where many of the 8 Days and iWeekly covers you see at newsstands have been shot, now takes up a large studio with a high ceiling. I really like it, but Steve Zhu, the head photographer for MPB, wrinkles his nose when I tell him. He then offers me some mooncake (I love Steve, he always has food).

Nellie brings me to meet two other lovely breast cancer ladies: Veronica Ang and Linda Ng, both of whom are Pink Paddlers, members of the dragonboating team of the Breast Cancer Foundation. (Hmm… I think this is destiny calling me. More on Pink Paddlers later.)

We all sit to have our makeup and hair done by Manisa Tan — we used her a lot for Vanilla so it was lovely to see her again. Then my ex-colleague and partner in my writing agency Michelle Bong comes to chitchat with me — we NEVER meet for fun so this was a real treat.

Suddenly I’m told, this is for the cover.

Yikes, nobody said anything about a cover. Secretly, I hope they have picked nice clothes for me! For all of us!

Stylist Gina Koh is a whip-thin, tall young lady who looks like Patti Smith in her younger days, so I was quite hopeful. However, I have to say the clothes were rather… safe. But still, the idea was, all shades of pink for the cover of Lifewise’s Sept/Oct issue, with different colours on the inside pages telling each of our stories.

I love photo shoots because you never come out looking like you feel. I quite like being “surprised” when I look at the shots on the hooked-up computer as we progress — it’s such a departure from the days when we had to do a “test shot” with a Polaroid camera, and walk around the room waving the Poly to dry it so that the image would come out. These days, you can shoot and delete on the spot, no surprises.

Linda and Veronica are very photogenic, and so game. They are changing poses like pros. I, on the other hand, am what you call a “kayu” during photo shoots, ie I find a position and hold it, just like my stocks. You would think after working so many years in fashion magazines I would know how to pose, but noooo…

Photographer Roy Lim (a real sweetie) gets us to squeeze together for a Charlie’s Angels shot (sans guns). This works best with Linda in the middle – she is such a good-looking girl. I’m shocked later to find out that her oldest daughter is 23 — and Linda is only 43! Good grief, my eldest is only 11! So it’s true that women who have their children early will always maintain their youth.

Roy works hard making us laugh and look like we’re best friends. Really, photo shoots are hard work — for the models but most of all for the photographer.

After our cover shot, we do our individual shots. Gina puts me in a diaphanous blue blouse from Dressy (it’s really cute). The colour looks good on me, so it’s all over very quickly, chop chop curry pop.

The photo crew & I, from left: photographer Roy, designer Frances, Gina (in hat), me, makeup artist Manisa, and asst ed Nellie.

Before I vamoose I visit Aggie and Joyce in their new office. It’s true, there is not a single window to be found. So I am quite relieved that I am no longer working at MPB. I’m a living thing – I need my sunshine to grow.

We sit and mock each other and laugh about old times, and our other pal Phyllis appears, looking like a million dollars as always. These are three of my oldest friends, and just being with them really made my day.

I love it that having had this cancer has allowed me to spend time with the people who mean something to me, who have left their marks on my life. In many cases, I might have quite happily gone on living from day to day, and missed every chance there was to connect with them again, to talk, to share, to be friends. That I’ve had the opportunity to stop and reconnect, to me, has been one of the greatest gifts to come out of this whole experience.

Joyce aka Xena (left), Aunty Aggie (middle) and I.

Lifewise’s full feature on Breast Cancer is an informative piece. You can read it here.