Not all glitter and glam

Style Weekend | The Pink Issue

The country’s top designers, models, and muses channel their creative vision to raise support for ICanServe Foundation and its advocacy of breast cancer awareness and early detection

For Tang Singson, the tireless president of ICanServe Foundation, there are numbers that cling to the memory more than others: 2003, the year she found out she had breast cancer; three, the stage of her diagnosis; six, the cycles of chemotherapy she had undergone; and 30, the sessions of radiation she had to endure.

Such were the stark realities the diminutive Singson, for all her dainty and delicate, barely five-foot frame, had faced and conquered in her fight against the Big C. It’s a story she freely tells— all smiles and in between bites of delectable hors d’oeuvres—her eagerness to share so apparent an onlooker would assume she was divulging the latest gossip instead of reliving the details of an experience that left her “so depressed, devastated and helpless I wouldn’t want to wish it upon my worst enemy.”

Surprisingly, Singson isn’t alone in this regard. Inside the well-lit meeting room at the Raffles Makati, similar stories were being exchanged among a lively mix of ICanServe members, fashion designers, celebrities, and breast cancer survivors. All had gathered for the launch of Fashion Can Serve 2016, an event slated this October 13 to raise support and shine the spotlight on breast cancer awareness and early detection. “I think I speak for most of us that, going through breast cancer and then surviving it, you not only feel like you’ve been given a second lease on life, but you have this compelling desire to not want other women to go through the same,” says Singson.

This is exactly the spirit behind ICanServe Foundation’s beginnings 17 years ago. In 1999, four friends and fellow breast cancer survivors—Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, Crisann Celdran, Becky Fuentes, and Bet Lazatin—had felt the need to provide a circle of support for women who were newly diagnosed, undergoing cancer treatments, and those in remission who were navigating their “new normal” life. In 2008, recognizing they can save more women by advocating for early detection, ICanServe started Ating Dibdibin, the first comprehensive community-based breast cancer screening program in the country. “We’re the only foundation doing this at the barangay level—we know for a fact that if cancer is detected early, there are better chances for survival,” says Singson.
Fashion for a cause
In an effort to elevate ICanServe’s mission to a wider audience and to further raise support for its Ating Dibdibin program, the non-profit is staging its Fashion Can Serve benefit show, now on its second year, which will see six of the country’s style visionaries craft eye-catching collections inspired by the courageous journeys of breast cancer survivors.

“I have such profound respect and admiration for breast cancer survivors,” shares Dennis Lustico, who joins Randy Ortiz, Patrice Diaz, Rosanna Ocampo, Patty Ang, and Mark Bumgarner among the roster of designers participating in the fundraising event. “I see these women as the epitome of bravery, having gone through chemotherapy, radiation, and some even mastectomies. I’ve never met more ‘complete’ women,” says Lustico, whose muses Beth Romualdez, Via Reyes, Bibeth Orteza and Lorenza Huang will bring to life his romantic designs inspired by blooms.

For multi-awarded fashion designer Randy Ortiz, Fashion Can Serve 2016 takes on even deeper meaning as his collection is a special homage to his mother Lourdes, whom he lost to cancer. “I named my collection after her,” reveals Ortiz. “Every piece will tell a part of my mom’s story—her struggle against cancer, how she is as a woman, how much she loved fashion, her sensibilities as a dresser, and the pain we endured as a family. Her loss is still greatly felt to this day. I think if there is one thing you will notice in my collection, it’s that it is full of emotion,” he adds.

Fashion-savvy Rosanna Ocampo, known for designing fun, flirty, and colorful made-to-order pieces, shares this will be her most subdued collection yet. “All the colors I chose are very pale with dark contrasts. Because of the theme of this fashion show, and in light of everything that’s happening in the world today, I wanted to highlight beauty amidst the darkness,” says Ocampo, who will be dressing sisters-in-law Margarita and Malou Fores, and Frances Yu and sister Crickette Tantoco.
Strength in numbers
A lot has been said about the women who have had to face or are struggling with breast cancer, but Singson shares that equally important in that journey are the “breast friends” who helped uplift survivors like herself after hitting rock bottom.

This year’s theme, We Don’t Walk Alone, celebrates exactly that, with most of the designers and muses sharing a special bond in one way or another. Choosing to create a collection that “empowers women to be more confident,” youngest male designer Mark Bumgarner will dress his good friend celebrity Heart Evangelista, who lends her star power to further the advocacy of Singson.

A week after the launch of Fashion Can Serve 2016, Singson joins Evangelista in a fashion shoot with Style Weekend and the camaraderie between the two is immediately apparent. Shares Evangelista, “Tang is a really good friend of ours and I’m very close to her family. When I learned that Mark is part of it, too, it all just kind of connected and it was just a fit for me to be part of this show that celebrates the strength and courage of women who had conquered breast cancer. Beyond creating awareness about the advocacy, one lesson that’s always guided me is that kindness and having a positive outlook can really go a long way—it’s the way you react to things, how you are, and if you’re very positive, you can overcome anything.”

Singson concurs, “One of the most humbling lessons throughout my journey was realizing I couldn’t fight cancer alone. No matter how strong-willed you are, you’ll really need somebody with you—not for pity, but to push and tell you to wake up and fight this thing. You’ll have good days and bad days, and on both occasions, having somebody there counts a lot.”

Between the photo shoot and the lively gathering at Raffles Makati, it’s clear from the spirit of solidarity radiating in the room that the relationships among the participants run deep. And it is this strong foundation that will continue to drive ICanServe’s unfaltering mission to spread hope and help to the women who need it the most.