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Like many of us, Jimmie Tay and Kelly Keak have witnessed lives consumed by the cancer scourge. And that’s why they have joined hands to plan Singapore Cancer Society’s Charity Gala Dinner to raise funds in a bid to ensure that no one should fight the disease alone. Yanni Tan finds out more.

It is predicted that every one in four people in Singapore could be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. As much as this disease is prevalent, the overall screening uptake rate for Singaporean women for colorectal, breast and cervical cancer is a dismal 30 to 40 per cent, compared to 60 to 70 per cent in other developed countries. As it stands, breast cancer is the most common type among Singaporean women, while colon and rectum cancer tops the list for men.

Fortunately for us, the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS) has been dedicated to minimising the impact of cancer and maximising lives through a host of programmes for over 58 years. Jumping aboard the good cause are two friends of Prestige – entrepreneurs Jimmie Tay and Kelly Keak, who stepped up to volunteer as the co-chairmen for this year’s edition of the fundraiser, named Odyssey of Stars.

Both no stranger to philanthropy, they tell us why the cause is important to them, how your generous support would help raise $700,000 out of the annual $20 million the SCS needs to continue its mission, and of course, why you should not miss this worthwhile event.

Jimmie Tay

Jimmie Tay

Why does the subject of cancer resonate with you?

My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer 35 years ago and it was an emotional rollercoaster for us all. She went in and out of the hospital for chemotherapy over six months, and it worked for a year before her cancer relapsed. After three difficult years, she passed on. It drained my father greatly and took a toll on the rest of the family.

Many close relatives also developed cancer, some of which were of the lung and liver. I watched as they shrank physically, until they were merely skin and bones. It was especially noticeable in those who battled stomach cancer – their big swollen stomachs becoming small and flat when they passed on. The Covid-19 pandemic proved the world can come together to develop a drug or vaccine that can save millions of lives, yet we still lack one that can cure cancer. This is urgent.

Why is it important to put the focus on cancer, in Singapore, now?  

The battle against cancer never stops, just as cancer does not sleep. Thankfully, with advancements in medical research and technology, we are now able to screen for some of the most common cancers in Singapore. Regular screening means early detection, especially in the beginning, asymptomatic stages, allowing for a higher chance of successful treatment.

There is much to be done to educate the public on cancer, screening and support options available. Cancer might be a taboo, inauspicious topic in our society, but we need to talk about it. Cancer does not just impact a person; it also leaves its ugly impact on those around them. Cancer awareness needs to be raised so that more can be done for people fighting cancer, and their loved ones.

One of the small things we can each do is to encourage our loved ones to go for regular screenings. Let us not shy away from talking about cancer because it is not necessarily a death sentence. In this case, sharing is caring, and you might save someone’s life.

You joined SCS as gala co-chairman for the year 2020/2021 but it was delayed to this year due to the pandemic. What led you to the cause?

Sometime in 2019, I received a call from my former schoolmate Dr Ang Peng Tiam, asking if I could chair the SCS gala dinner. The society had not held one in over a decade, and after praying about it, I told him I would like to take up the challenge. Although SCS is new to me, cancer is a cause very close to my heart due to my family history. Over the last two decades, I have chaired at least 15 charity galas, and this is my first for SCS. I look forward to doing my best.

How will the funds raised be used?

Funds raised will go towards SCS’ holistic programmes and services. SCS offers welfare aid, hospice care, cancer treatment subsidies and rehabilitation support for low- to middle-income cancer patients and their families. Through their public education and community outreach programmes, SCS provides cancer screening at no charge and organises cancer awareness campaigns. SCS also disburses grants for cancer research.

Beneficiaries’ needs also vary from person to person. While some require financial assistance, others may be at a stage at which they are considering hospice care. Many also approach SCS for support group activities to meet their psycho-social and emotional needs. SCS also runs Singapore’s only post-cancer treatment rehabilitation centre, with exercises and programmes tailored to helping survivors rebuild their strength and ability to return to their role in their families and society.

What are the challenges of putting this gala together?

As it is for many events, one of the biggest challenges is Covid-19. With the frequent changes in regulations, we were undecided as to whether the gala should be held live, virtual or hybrid. We waited patiently for the authorities’ announcement before going full steam ahead. Unfortunately, that meant a shorter runway for the preparation. While we usually start selling tables and garnering donations 10 months before the event, we had less than six for this gala.

Kelly Keak

Kelly Keak

How close is the subject of cancer to your heart?

With the kind of stress and lifestyle we have, it is very common to hear that someone around us is struck with cancer. I also feel very strongly about supporting cancer patients because my great grandmother and uncle had passed on from the condition too.

Why did you step up to this role?

I was previously already involved in the organisation doing fundraising through online auctions of preloved luxury items, but I decided to step up as gala co-chairman because I believe I could do more. When it comes to charities, I’ve always wondered how best I can give back, how best can I value add to the charity and truly help those in need. Given my experience in organising and managing events as the managing director of MTM Labo, I thought that the best way I could be of service to SCS and the cancer community was to organise the gala and to promote greater cancer awareness.

How else have you been involved in SCS’ cause?

I will always chip in to support their work as much as my time allows! In fact, I organised a team of friends to participate in a charity run named Race Against Cancer, and we raised over $20,000. What matters a lot was also the involvement of the team members and the support from their friends. That awareness we created was as important as the money we raised.

Odyssey of Stars – what do you hope to convey with this theme?

The cancer journey is tough and gruelling – be it mentally and physically. As the name suggests, our theme for this gala is to shed more light on a dark topic and on the cancer community’s journey in their fight against the disease. We aim to highlight what everyone can do to help. We hope this theme will provide at least a little comfort for those in the cancer community; knowing that they are not alone and that SCS will always be there for them.

What are some highlights of the gala dinner?

It’s been a long time since we can have a big gathering. So I am definitely looking forward to finally meeting our friends who are coming together a good cause. Also, dinner guests will absolutely enjoy the touching and courageous stories shared by cancer survivors.

How has the planning experience been like for you?

Planning the gala has been a very precious and eye-opening experience for me. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with the cancer community and was able to view first-hand the comfort and support that SCS provides them. It really inspired my drive to continue my work for SCS.

What are your hopes for the gala?

We hope to raise as much money as possible for the equipment and medicine required for cancer treatment. Going through cancer treatment can be really tough and taxing on the body and mind. The funds raised help to lighten the burden on cancer patients and their caregivers, so that they can focus solely on receiving their treatment without having to constantly worry about the costs. Beyond that, we also hope to boost awareness on this topic. Donating and volunteering is the way to go to empower SCS to give hope and strength to our beneficiaries.

Singapore Cancer Society’s Odyssey of Stars Charity Gala Dinner takes place on Sept 2, 2022, from 6.30-10.30pm at the Grand Ballroom at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore. The guest-of-honour is Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung. Please lend a hand to this worthy cause by buying a dinner table package or gifting a table to beneficiaries. Tables are priced at $10,000, $20,000 and $50,000. To receive the sponsorship package and reply slip, please email Elaine Tan at elaine_tan@singaporecancersociety.org.sg. You may also make an outright donation at giving.sg/singapore-cancer-society. For more information, visit SCS’ website.

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