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Fifteen cancer patients and survivors walked the runway in Fashion For Cancer, to raise money for the National Cancer Centre Singapore Cancer Fund. The Straits Times went behind the scenes to document how fashion becomes a transformative force for individuals facing the formidable challenges of cancer.
Mr Chia Rong Liang, 38, flashed a wide grin and a quick “finger hearts” gesture with his thumb and index finger.
His confidence belied the hours of rest and mental preparation it had taken him to stand under the spotlight for an unusual fashion show on Aug 25.
Only cancer patients and survivors were featured in Fashion For Cancer, which aimed to raise money for National Cancer Centre Singapore’s (NCCS) Cancer Fund.
“I have to, since my mum is doing this,” he quipped.
Fashion For Cancer is the brainchild of his mother, senior model and influencer Ong Bee Yan, who had lost her mother and uncle to the disease.
Familiar with the physical and mental toll that cancer takes, Ms Ong, 67, wanted to create a space where her son and others battling cancer could celebrate their lives and showcase their resilience.
Modelling had given her confidence, and she wanted them to experience the same.
“For many of these survivors, walking the runway is a dream they’d never thought possible while fighting the disease that ravaged their body,” she said.
In this fashion show with a difference, everything was donated or offered pro bono.
Clothes were sponsored by local label In Good Company, while Moss & Lupine sponsored jewellery and accessories.
Charles & Keith sponsored shoes, as well as offered space for the amateur models to be trained for the catwalk by Miss Singapore Universe 2019 Mohana Prabha (below, left).
The training session was conducted at Charles & Keith Group HQ in Tai Seng Link.
Fashion veteran Daniel Boey volunteered as choreographer for the charity fundraiser show.
About 100 tickets were sold for the event, held at the Ubi Road 1 studio of media tech company Oceanus Media Global, part of the Oceanus Group.
Apart from the fashion show, fundraising efforts are ongoing in September via an online campaign and have raised over $51,000 at press time.
During the show, nine-year-old Charlie Rose Ong walked the stage holding hands with Mediacorp artiste Pan Ling Ling, a breast cancer survivor.
Charlie Rose was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2022 and has been on the mend since receiving a stem cell transplant in December.
She also shared the spotlight with her mother, film producer Charmaine Seah-Ong, 40, and her sister.
Ms Seah-Ong got to know Fashion For Cancer founder Ong Bee Yan through a commercial shoot and was happy to volunteer herself and her daughters for the charity event.
“It’s for a good cause,” she said.
The oldest model was flexi-adjunct PE teacher and fitness trainer Arun Rosiah, 59, who survived colorectal cancer.
It left him with a physical scar on his abdomen from surgery, plus numerous issues such as digestive problems.
He hoped that being open about his journey would help others in the same place feel less alone.
Many of the models chatted backstage about the toll that cancer took on their bodies and self-esteem.
Breast cancer survivor Zen Tan, 34, turned to wigs to cover her lost tresses.
Another breast cancer survivor, Ms Charlene Koh, 39, developed scalp rashes and could not wear wigs.
Instead, she dyed her pixie crop pink. The spunky realtor said she decided to simply do what she wanted.
Fashion For Cancer was an empowering experience for the models, and also a way for some to reconcile with a painful past.
Mr Gabriel Yip, 29, had refused for years to talk about his experience with leukaemia at age 18.
Though in remission for almost 10 years, the camera assistant said he used to have a “phobia” of discussing the experience or even interacting with cancer patients and survivors.
Then his friend, Mr Chia, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Supporting him through the experience made Mr Yip decide it was time to face his past.
“Just being here with survivors and sharing stories is strangely comforting,” he said.
A tattoo on Mr Yip’s right shin with a scene from the final part of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
Samwise Gamgee had asked his friend Frodo Baggins, “Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”
Both hobbits, exhausted after travelling for so long, could barely remember their old lives back in the Shire.
The 29-year-old camera assistant said: “It relates to me, because it’s about a long and difficult journey, and I remember thinking to myself that I could no longer remember the experience of some of my favourite things.”
“It’s comforting to know that other people went through the same thing,” said Mr Yip.
Fundraising efforts are ongoing at www.giving.sg/campaigns/ffc and funds will go to the National Cancer Centre Singapore Cancer Fund, which provides financial assistance for needy patients and supports cancer research.