Lean on us

PHOTO: Lean on us

SINGAPORE - When cancer strikes, it can strike very close to home.

Actress and voice-over artist Julie Wee had a close call with the dreaded disease, while actors Jerry Hoh and Nat Ho have encountered it in their families.

That's why the trio created a music video for the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) in support of cancer sufferers.

The video, Lean On You, captures the everyday trials and struggles of cancer victims.

Hoh, who came up with the idea, has witnessed several of his relatives from his mother's side die from the disease over a five-year span.

On a more positive note, Hoh's younger brother recently recovered from nose cancer. His elder brother's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and survived it.

As for Ho, his grandfather died from cancer of the small intestine in 2000. His aunt is a cancer survivor.

Wee's brush with cancer started about two years ago.

She told The New Paper: "The doctors found some pre-cancer cells in the results when I went for my routine Pap smear test in March 2010.

"When I heard that, all I can remember thinking over and over again was, 'It's happening to me'."

The 27-year-old underwent a procedure called a cone biopsy the next month to remove a small section of the cervix where the cells were growing. A cone-shaped wedge of tissue is removed from the cervix in the procedure, which explains the name.

She added: "I've been totally clean (of cancer) since then. I still go for regular check-ups."

Pap smear advocate

Pap smear advocate

The actress, who appeared in the TV series Moulmein High and Light Years, is a big advocate of cancer testing, particularly Pap smears.

"I keep telling my friends and family to get tested regularly."

Said Hoh, who is in his late thirties: "Raising awareness for cancer came naturally to me because of the many people I knew who were afflicted with it."

With the help of composer Melissa Poon, Hoh composed Lean On You in May last year, which was then put together by music arranger James Lye and his team.

Hoh explained that he approached the NCCS in September last year with his proposal, and "they were very happy to work with us".

Lean On You, he said, is based on a cancer patient's perspective.

Hoh said: "Part of the song, which goes: 'Keep me dry, keep me warm/ Bring me light, bring me hope/ I will lean on you' may sound generic, but that doesn't detract from the song's impact."

It is important, he said, that "everybody can instinctively connect with Lean On You, without having overly complicated lyrics".

Hoh added: "Every person suffering from cancer will have their own pain and loneliness, and the song allows them to fill in the blanks with their own experiences.

"I wanted Lean On You to be be a catalyst in filling the void that cancer patients feel."

The actor, last seen in The Pupil on Channel 5, then brought on board Ho, 27, and Wee to record the song and its music video in August.

Wee said with a laugh: "Jerry is the leader. Nat and I just turned up!"

Hoh explained: "I know Julie and Nat personally, and they are really bubbly and talented people. They also shared my concern about how cancer awareness needs to be improved, and it all just flowed from there."

Though it was their first time working together, the collaboration went smoothly.

Ho and Wee said they both attended Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC), although they knew each other only casually.

Ho said: "We were in the drama club in ACJC and had worked together on some plays, but we never really talked much to each other."

Wee said in mock disgust: "We took a prom photo together, how could you forget?"

Ho continued with a laugh: "We never went out for coffee, which was a pity."

A surprised Hoh said: "I never knew you guys knew each other!"

Recording the song with Poon and Lye took the three-man-band a full day, while filming the music video took another day under the watchful eye of director Rick Choy of Yang Films.

The music video can be viewed on www.leanonyou.com.

Learning process

Learning process

Hoh said: "It's been a learning process to write a song, record it, shoot the video, as well as get the website (by web design company ButterScotch Creations) up and running."

The trio also roped in 30 friends to sing in the music video.

Hoh explained: "For the music video, we did not want to use pictures of suffering patients or of sterile hospital beds.

"Julie, Nat and I all wore black and performed against a black background, while our friends were depicted in colour.

"This was to emphasise the contrast between light and dark, hope and despair, and to show figuratively that there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Hoh added that everyone contributed to the project without charging a fee and that a production of this size would probably amount to a "lower" five-figure sum.

Said Wee: "Raising awareness and funds for NCCS' research efforts is paramount. Through Lean On You, we want to put people in the right frame of mind to donate toward this noble cause."

She stressed: "The charity has got to be reliable and trustworthy, and we felt that the NCCS fits the bill."

Ms Adeline Teo, marketing communications manager of the Division of Community Outreach and Philanthropy at the NCCS, said that Lean On You is very helpful in raising awareness and funds toward clinical research to combat cancer.

She said: "It's a personal and refreshing approach, as opposed to dwelling on the scientific and health aspects of cancer which may or may not be relevant to the man in the street." Ho felt that the song title's simplicity speaks volumes.

Said the former MediaCorp actor: "Anyone who's in distress will want to be able to lean on someone.

"It doesn't have to be more complicated than that.

Ho has also posted a link to Lean On You on his Twitter feed.

Hoh quipped: "We'll rely on people who have seen it online to get the word out. For others, this article will help, will it not?"

Ho added: "We want to plant the seed of the idea of awareness in people, like in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Inception."

This article was first published in The New Paper.