How I Ended Up In Nuyou Magazine

The lovely photo team at Nuyou (from left): Stylist Bernard Tan, makeup artist Zen Chi, me, coordinator Pauline Lui and photographer Vee Chin.

One of my oldest and dearest friends is Grace Lee, the Editor-in-Chief of Nuyou magazine. Grace and I used to stay at the same hall of residence in NUS — Raffles Hall. You couldn’t miss her – she’s six feet tall and slim! She was a basketball player (I did drama). We never thought we would really see each other again, but seven years after graduation, I became Grace’s colleague when I joined Female magazine as the Editor. Female and Nuyou are “sister publications” – Female being English-language and Nuyou being Chinese. To this day, I think Nuyou has the most beautiful covers of all the women’s magazines in Singapore.

Grace and I would travel for the yearly fashion shows in Paris and Milan. Through these trips we became really good friends, and I believe it was her constant sharing of her faith that prepared my heart to receive Jesus eventually, in 2003.

We meet at least once a year to celebrate each other’s birthdays, together with our other buddy Clara Goh (who handles branding and marketing for Fendi).

A 2009 photo of me (left), Clara (middle with the birthday cake) and Grace

This year, however, Grace came to see me “early” because of my operation. She visited me at home two weeks after my surgery and I could see in her eyes that it pained her to see me not even being able to sit up straight. But as I shared how God had been so good to me, that my cancer was caught so early even though it already affected 5cm of my breast tissue, that the doctor was able to do the surgery and that my chances of survival are so excellent, Grace became encouraged.

A few weeks later she called me and asked if I would share my story in Nuyou for the October issue, which also marks Breast Cancer Month. Of course, I said yes — I would do almost anything in this world for Grace, even a photo shoot when I’m feeling the least pretty I’ve ever felt. I was a bit concerned, of course, if I was going to look puffy because my swelling was still pretty obvious, and my posture was still fairly compromised at the point. But I was enthusiastic about sharing an “overcoming” story with women in Singapore (even though I can’t read Chinese to save my life!!).

Nuyou writer Mindy called me and interviewed me over the phone for the story, then I had to go for a photo shoot a week later, to make it in time for their October issue. I had a good time telling my “horror story” to Mindy – she gasped at all the right places!

My story in Nuyou, October 2010

The photo shoot was at the SPH Magazines office at Genting Lane. Stylist Bernard put me in a silvery blue satin RC (by Roberto Cavalli) dress which, I was so surprised, fit me. It had a elastic waist which was great as it helped to give my now swollen torso some semblance of a shape. Makeup artist Zen gave me a really light face with really dark eyes, which is something I’ve never been able to do at home. And he straightened my hair till it swung like in a Pantene ad — loved it!

The posing was the hardest because I was still aching all over (on top of the fact that I am super kayu when it comes to taking photos. I’m no model, baby!). Photographer Vee tried her best to make me laugh.

Thank goodness I’m not an actress or model or I think I’d be out of a job in a hurry…

It was a nice experience to have just a few months after surgery because, though I’ve never really been a super-vain type of girl, losing a breast did make me feel like a freak, at least initially. Now, three and a half months after the fact, I’m getting more used to my new bosom and it’s feeling much more “real”.

I’d like to thank Grace and Mindy and the wonderful photo team for making me feel, just for a little over an hour, like a normal woman again. And I hope my story helps somebody, even if it’s just one person. (You have to let me know – I can’t read it at all!)

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.