Joi Chua: ‘My Mum and Aunt both died from breast cancer’

Mandopop muse Joi Chua (蔡淳佳) talks to us about her heartbreaking brush with breast cancer, plus some personal tips on deflecting the dreaded disease and her one makeup must-have (hint: It’s a Singapore street style staple!)

OMG, I’m such an idiot when it comes to proffering platitudes – but then again, what can you possibly say to a superstar stranger who tells you, point-blank, that she’s lost her mother and aunt to breast cancer?

Let’s double back from my excruciatingly embarrassing encounter and set the scene for starters. It’s an exceptionally oppressive October evening, and I’m clinking champers and consorting with a bunch of beauty scribes and Very Important People who have traipsed into town for Estee Lauder’s laudable annual affair for breast cancer awareness.

Everyone and their mother is decked out in (what else?) every shocking shade of pink imaginable, so when the woman of the hour waltzes in, her beautifully understated blush jumpsuit makes for a welcome reprieve from the flock of flush flamingos and flaming fuchsias I’ve found myself in.

Joi Chua’s elegant ensemble (Max Mara, natch) is the first indication that the Singapore songbird-turned-thespian is cut from a different cloth, so to speak. (The second sign is her charitable comeback to my awkward attempts at conveying my condolences.)

Mark Loomis, Senior Vice President of Estee Lauder Companies (APAC), and Lisa Chow, MD of ELC SG Affiliate, with Joi in the middle.

Bereavement aside, here are other not-so-sombre bits and bobs from our damsel in dusty rose:

The pink ribbon is a profoundly personal cause. Joi lets on about her loss with an almost preternatural poise: “My Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 15 and passed away when I was 19,” she says. Rattled at the revelation, I botch my “I’m terribly sorry” spiel by umming and ahhing for a beat too long, but she responds with a reassuring “I got this” smile.

Gulp. But there’s more: “Two of my paternal aunts also developed breast cancer: One of them was diagnosed when I was really young, while the other is a cancer survivor.” But don’t cry for her, Argentina and other assorted nations: Joi is in the pink of health and intends to keep it that way, thank you very much.

Top takeaway: Look for lumps. Mammograms are one thing, but daily manual massages are a pivotal preventative measure, too. “While early medical detection can really save lives, you must also be diligent at performing self-examinations at home,” Joi advises. “Regular checkups with a trusted doctor is key, especially if you have a strong family history of the disease like I do.”

Keep calm – and cancer-free? Joi’s joie de vivre may well be the key to warding off The Big C. “It’s important to maintain a happy mood because I feel that at some level, cancer is stress-related,” she says. “I blow off steam by making sure I have my me-time, whether it be in the form of a facial or an intimate gathering with a small group of friends.” Sounds like ace advice to me!

Oh, and working women who run the world, stop sweating the small stuff: “Sometimes our responsibilities can become too much to bear, which is why we need to know when to drop everything that’s on our plate and just breathe.” Time to kick up your kitten heels and sip on a heart-healthy glass of red, then!

Her beauty secret is an Ah Lian staple. What’s the best thing since sliced bread? Why, eyelid tape, of course – how very “local”, right?

Incidental observation: Towards the end of our tete-a-tete, the erstwhile exemplary English-speaking interviewee lapses into the most charming of colloquial Chinese: “My eyelids tend to be ‘bu ting hua’ (literally ‘disobedient’, but used in this context to connote asymmetry) so I have to resort to sticky tape to make them appear similar in size.” Bugis Junction-frequenting schoolgirls, rejoice!

Oh, and FWIW, Joi is generally good with going out with minimal makeup – except on days when she “langar lorry”: “When I wake up looking like I’ve just been run over by a truck, I’ll slap on some makeup. Otherwise I’m perfectly fine without face paint.” Mandopop megastars – they’re just like us!