“A man’s presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. By contrast, a woman’s presence … defines what can and cannot be done to her.” And so Margaret Atwood begins with a quote by John Berger in her novel Bodily Harm. Published in 1981, she writes of one Rennie Wilford, who having been diagnosed with breast cancer, sees her life falling apart from her refusal to speak of her ailment and experiences a lack of appetite to live, as well as deteriorating sexual confidence upon the loss of one of her breasts. “This is a fact, it’s happened to you, and right now you can’t believe it … You’ve been used to thinking of yourself as a person, but all of a sudden you’re just a statistic.”
Breast cancer, a disease that was deemed to usurp a woman of her femininity, seems like a taboo subject in a distant past. But awareness, research funding, and support for breast cancer has really only come into full swing in recent years. The most popular initiative is the Pink Ribbon, spearheaded by the late Evelyn H. Lauder, a leading figure in breast cancer research and awareness. Her Breast Cancer Research Foundation still dedicates itself to these endeavours, most notably through lighting up iconic landmarks all over the world, including the KL Tower, in pink. Today, the initiative continues with ambassador Elizabeth Hurley, who has been championing the cause for 20 years.
The model and actress recalls, “I was incredibly close with my late grandmother. She was a wonderful, fun-loving woman who was full of energy. When she discovered a lump in her breast, she was too afraid to talk about it. In fact, she waited two years before even telling anyone she had breast cancer. Her experience really left a lasting impression on me, and when Evelyn Lauder asked me to help her with the Breast Cancer Awareness (BCA) Campaign right after I started as an Estée Lauder model, I felt an immediate connection to the cause.”
“While most people are aware of breast cancer, many forget to have a plan to detect the disease in its early stages and encourage others to do the same,” laments Debbie Goh, who joins the cast of Pink Project for the first time this year. Stephanie Chai, one of the stars of BAZAAR’s Pink Project, agrees. “We talk a lot about how to prevent cancer by eating right and all, but why? Why are we doing all of those things and how does it stop breast cancer cells from forming? The biggest tool of all is education. How can we prevent something if we don’t we know anything about it?”
“The sooner you realise that striving for perfection can only cause suffering (because perfection doesn’t really exist), the more you will be able to let go and accept yourself with all your imperfections,” says Jojo Struys, who has been with the Pink Project cause since day one. “It’s so important to get the word out about breast cancer because it’s affecting women around the world everyday.”
“There have been many moments that I thought I have learnt from the past,” recounts Bernie Chan, also an early star of the Pink Project. This year she returns, wiser and more empowered than ever. “Admittedly, self-acceptance is very hard. I used to take care of my body from the outside but not from the inside. In the past couple of years, I have come to realise that if the insides of our body are in good order, it will show physically. Cancer risk is high in my family and I did take my body for granted for most of my life but now I believe in going for my check-ups regularly. Ask friends to recommend good doctors. We women should have no shame in talking openly about such things.”
Mindfulness, as well as education, according to Pink Project fresh face Nadia Heng, really counts. “You reach a point in life when you start to lose people you love – it is a fact of life whether we like it or not. It has made me rethink how I spend my time and made me a lot more conscious of looking after myself. Treat your body like a temple. Treat it with respect. We can’t afford to sleep on this.”
Photography: Chuan Looi. Styling: Kenneth Goh. Words: Li Ying Lim.