PHOTO: LATASHNI GOBI NATHAN / THE NEW PAPER
By Jocelyn Lee,
The New Paper,
Saturday, April 5, 2014
“Why is your wife botak (bald in Malay)?” “Why are you so fat now?” “Why is your hair so short? Are you sick?”
These were some of the insensitive questions posed by strangers to actress Pan Lingling and her husband, former actor Huang Shinan, in the past year.
Last year was rough for the couple, who have been married for 17 years.
Pan found out that she had Stage 1 breast cancer in March last year and underwent a partial mastectomy followed by breast reconstruction surgery — a seven-hour operation. The 43-year-old also went for chemotherapy, which caused her hair to fall out and her weight to balloon by 10kg.
Later in the year, Pan’s father was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer and died a couple of months ago.
For Pan and Huang, 52, dealing with cancer was not the only stressful issue. Having to keep it under wraps kept them, especially Huang, on edge.
Yesterday afternoon, he told a press conference that the “botak” remark happened while he and Pan were playing golf. As it was a hot day, she took off her wig briefly. A stranger later approached Huang to ask why his wife was bald.
He said: “I had to lie and tell him that his eyes were playing tricks. I was so worried people would find out (about the cancer).”
Pan, who is now cancer-free, said that when she went to the market, the aunties would ask her why she had gained so much weight. Some questioned her on her changing hairstyles and asked why her hair was so short.
She later told The New Paper: “I wasn’t affected by the unkind comments, but the difficult part was not knowing how to answer them as I didn’t want the media or public to know the truth. I just told them that I had cut my hair short because the weather was so hot, and that I had gained weight because I’d been living the good life.”
During the press conference, Pan said she sought help from haircare centre Beijing 101 to regain her crowning glory after beating breast cancer. With a lush crop of short hair adorning her head now, she seemed to be in good spirits.
But recalling their ordeal in the past few months was an emotional experience and the couple occasionally broke down on stage.
They bowed and apologised for not being forthcoming with the news earlier and explained that they did not want it to affect their two sons, 15-year-old Beckham and 12-year-old Kynaston.
Huang said: “I worried a lot for my wife and I was constantly asking her if she was okay. I looked so troubled and lost weight. I cried so much that people thought I was the patient instead of her.
“Her temperament changed during chemotherapy and she would become impatient and frustrated without noticing it. I had to give in to her and accommodate her. She also had nightmares and screamed in her sleep.”
Pan said that she did not cut her hair during the initial stages of chemotherapy as she wanted to go through the experience of hair loss.
“My husband and sons commented that I was dropping a lot of hair. I asked my sons to tug at my hair and clumps fell out. I shaved it to a buzz cut only after I was losing too much hair,” she said.
“I wore a wig when I went out, but it was very itchy and left marks on my scalp. Sometimes, when I thought no one was looking, I quickly took off the wig for a short while to scratch my scalp.”
Looking at her shaved head in the mirror did not make her self-conscious. Instead, she told herself: “Actually, my features are not that bad. I look fine with this hairstyle.”
Pan also praised her sons for being mature and understanding in the past year.
“My elder son is more sentimental, like my husband. When the news of my cancer broke in the media last month, he posted a message on Instagram that read: ‘My mommy is a warrior’. That made me cry non-stop,” she said.
“My younger son cares for me through his actions, like secretly passing me a wig to wear when we have visitors.”
Pan asked MediaCorp to approach Beijing 101 last November as she wanted her hair to grow back faster and healthier. She had heard from her doctor and nurses that it takes six months to a year for a cancer survivor’s hair to grow back. Some never regain their original growth.
She said: “I only had 20 per cent of my hair left and I wanted to make sure it grew back. I love long hair and hope my hair can grow quickly to what it used to be. I miss my long hair.”
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