A Mother's Love

In a cultural landscape where fashion intersects with notions of superficiality, Ong Bee Yan’s groundbreaking movement, Fashion For Cancer, emerges as a transformative force. Ahead of its second iteration, the founder and senior model sheds light on the devastating effects of the illness while celebrating the power of community and human strength.

My name is Bee Yan and I am 68 years old. I am a senior fashion model, co-founder of cold brew startup 1degreeC and founder of Fashion For Cancer— a charity fashion show aiming to raise funds for cancer research and financial aid. I am also a wife, mother and grandmother to three beautiful grandchildren.

My foray into fashion began at 63 years old by chance. It started when a local fashion designer wanted everyday people of different ages to model her tie-dye T-shirt collection. Despite my initial hesitation, I embraced the opportunity. I told myself that if a designer trusted me to wear her clothes, I had no reason to doubt myself. After the shoot, a photographer chanced on her social media post, liked my silver hair and the rest, as they say, is history.

The most impactful experience I’ve had since starting my career in fashion was founding Fashion For Cancer. Instead of runway models, the inaugural iteration of Fashion For Cancer was modelled by cancer survivors. Our event was successfully launched on 25 August 2023. It took six months of planning and organising and I was blessed with a community of like-minded people who believed in the cause and gave their time, resources and expertise to support it.


My first encounter with cancer in my family was with my cousin, Sebastian. He was a fit and healthy man. I could not contain my tears when I visited him before he passed, as he was reduced to skin and bones. It was a traumatising and unforgettable experience. Sebastian was in his mid-30s and left behind his wife and two young children. Other members of my family who battled and succumbed to cancer included my uncle, aunt, another cousin and my mother. Thankfully, my sister-in-law, who had cancer, is now cancer-free.


<--- Ong Bee Yan in the May 2021 issue of Vogue Singapore.

“I wanted to have a fashion show with cancer survivors as models. It was an opportunity for them to showcase their resilience, courage and strength.”


Life threw us a curveball when my son Rong Liang was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on 17 August 2021. Like Sebastian, Rong Liang was fit. After the diagnosis, spending as much time as possible with my son was my priority. My husband and I brought him to have his check-ups and chemotherapy. Rong loved to eat and travel so we would explore new eating spots. Although he couldn’t hold his food and drink, on the last holiday that he planned with us to Osaka and Kyoto, he ensured we had the best time. On 18 September 2023, Rong Liang passed away. He was 38 years old. I knew he would not outlive us but I had hoped that I could have at least five more years with him. When a child leaves this world before you, it leaves an indescribable and unimaginable pain that cannot go away.

As a mother, I felt devastated, hopeless and useless. Everywhere I go, I feel his presence. I think of him daily and I miss him so much. They say time heals all wounds. For now, it is a motivation for me to focus on how I can contribute to helping others. Keeping myself busy and planning the Fashion For Cancer 2024 charity fashion show has redirected my focus from my grief.

Having cancer causes a multitude of emotions and physical symptoms. I wondered: wouldn’t it be great if I could make my son happy and forget he had cancer even for just one day? The lightbulb went off when Rong swaggered across the streets of Kyoto like a supermodel during our holiday. It then dawned on me that I wanted to not just have a fashion show with runway models but a fashion show with cancer survivors. It was an opportunity for them to showcase their resilience, courage and strength.

I couldn’t believe how much Rong’s chemotherapy and clinic visits cost, which made me wonder how low-income families could afford the treatments. Besides showcasing the cancer survivors’ journeys and empowering them on stage, Fashion For Cancer’s aim is to raise funds for cancer research and financial aid. At our inaugural event on 25 August 2023, we raised close to $140,000 which was donated to the NCCS (National Cancer Centre Singapore) Cancer Fund.


Like every project, setting up this initiative was not a bed of roses. Approaching sponsors with no track record meant that they believed in my vision and had faith that it would work. It was tough getting sponsors to donate cash but I am very blessed to have clothing brand In Good Company Asia, jewellery brand Moss and Lupine, public relations and media company Profound Concepts and Charles &Keith to come on board. Coupled with generous public donations and ticket sales to the fashion shows as well as a community of people and sponsors who showed their love and support, it was a resounding success.


“Intention, to me, means a purpose or goal. I intend to lead a fulfilling, meaningful, grateful and purposeful life where I can contribute back to society.”

For Fashion For Cancer 2024, there will be a charity screening of a short film which my son directed. It was one of his bucket-list wishes to direct a film and this will be a tribute to him. In 2024, I have a target of at least $200,000. While I am still looking for a kind venue sponsor to come on board, the event will take place at the end of August and early September. Fashion For Cancer is my son’s legacy. I know he would be over the moon (heaven) should Fashion For Cancer grow into an annual nationwide or regional event. As it expands, I hope that it continues to be a community effort where the fashion industry (from stylists and hair and make-up artists to photographers and videographers) can play a part in providing resources and expertise towards fundraising efforts. I hope that with the support and research, there is a breakthrough in a cure for cancer and families can support their loved ones financially as a result of our efforts.

Intention, to me, means a purpose or goal. I intend to lead a fulfilling, meaningful, grateful and purposeful life where I can contribute back to society.


As told to Maya Menon. Adapted from Vogue Singapore, 10 January 2024.


"Don't fear death, fear not living."

- Chia Rong Liang

My final days with cancer: Completing one last project with mum & dad