MDC Artiste Izzathy Halil Reflects On Her Mother’s Battle With Cancer

It is never easy to see a loved one battling the throes of this brutal disease.

By Sean Yee        16 November 2023

“The doctor just got back to us. It’s cancer.”

It was just moments before one of Izzathy’s most important performances when she received the distressing news about her mother. 

She was not one to cry in public. Professionalism is everything to her. And yet, without realising it, she had fallen on her knees. “I felt my body lose control,” she said as she revisited the profound grief that had preceded her onstage recital at Rayakustika 2023. 

As this Music & Drama Company singer, dancer and actress would learn, life is unpredictable. We often celebrate and flaunt its triumphant highs while neglecting its lows. But as German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would famously profess, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. 

Not one to let her life’s nadir pin her down, Izzathy opens up to us in this candid interview about her mother’s battle with throat cancer as well as her newly gained understanding of resilience. 

A triple threat who can sing, dance and act

Photos: @izzathyhalil

Even prior to her induction into the Music & Drama Company’s troupe of artists, Izzathy had already graced some of Singapore’s biggest stages. In 2019, she was in the large-scale theatrical commission “Fatih The Prince and The Drums” at the Esplanade. Alongside 39 other performers, they filled the musical halls with a stirring timbre produced by a rich mix of percussion instruments. One of the biggest highlights of her musical career would be her landing the pivotal role of Velma Kelly in LASALLE’s recreation of the Broadway classic “Chicago”. 

Just this year alone, she was joined by luminaries like Hady Mirza and Marina Yusof at Rayakustika 2023, MediaCorp’s annual Hari Raya Haji Variety Special.

“She was my mom-ager”

No matter the production or act, Izzathy’s mother has always been there for her every step of the way. 

“Whether it is an unreasonable production team or a late payment, I could count on my mom-ager to stand up for me,” she said. “She was and is a fighter.” 

In fact, it is her mother who had inspired and inculcated in her a deep-seated love for the performing arts during her formative years. “My mother’s a huge fan of Malay-pop spanning the 60s to the early 2000s. And she’ll never say no to a good ballad,” she recounted. “Once, she told me how she would pray that I’ll be as good of a singer as the late Sharifah Aini while she was pregnant with me.” 

She knew in her heart that her daughter was destined to be on stage. Upon seeing a newspaper advert by Sri Warison calling for students to enroll in the early 2000s, it really was a no-brainer.  Sri Warison is one of Singapore’s most reputable and esteemed Malay Performing Arts schools and many of its graduates have gone on to perform all around the world.

Deep down, all she ever wanted was to show the world the star that she saw in her daughter. 

A turn for the worse

“I remember being in the toilet cubicle, just bawling my eyes out.” Izzathy shared, reliving the few minutes before she was set to perform on stage at Rayakustika 2023. The performance was lauded as one of the night’s best by Berita Harian and yet, it was all an incorporeal blur. The text she had gotten from her brother has haunted her to this day.  

Since then, she has bounced back and proudly taken on the role of her mother’s caregiver, doing everything she can to alleviate her pain. “After the cancer diagnosis, I knew that I couldn’t afford to waste any more time. She deserves the best experience life can offer while she’s still here,” she reflected sombrely. 

The undertaking of a caregiver is not to be underestimated, especially when paired with professional obligations. Izzathy soon found herself overwhelmed, with barely any time to rest or engage in her usual recreations. “To say I’m exhausted is an understatement,” she confessed.  

Love being her greatest motivation

The journey is tough. But Izzathy knows that it is her time to step up.

“My mother was my main pillar of support. She always put her children before herself, showing only courage and tenacity in whatever life throws at her. Now, it’s my turn to be her pillar,” she shared. 

Now, she relishes the little comforts of her everyday routine. After a long day, she would go on relaxing night drives where she could calmly introspect and ponder over everything and anything. Calling them “me-time” drives, Izzathy would find solace in performing little acts of love during her drives, such as picking up her partner from work or getting groceries for her family. 

Solemn as it might be, Izzathy has learnt to appreciate the transience of life. “We are grateful to be given another day to live” she admits. 

Courage and resilience

It is truly amazing how much she has grown and matured just from this episode alone. 

Before this, she would lament over what now seems to be trivial setbacks at work. Her need for perfection led her to be incredibly hard on herself. But today, she provides a more refreshing perspective on the notion of “resilience”. 

“I have begun to understand the beauty of the process and not so much the outcome. There are many little victories we can celebrate as we adapt to challenging life experiences”, she proclaimed. 

There is a lot of truth to the adage “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Her mother, also a fighter, is currently undergoing her 10th session of radiation therapy for throat cancer. No matter the fatigue or pain that comes with the treatment, her spirit remains tenacious and hopeful. It may be a battle, but her mother is more than ready to fight cancer head-on. 

When asked about her own spiritual guiding force, Izzathy shared a quote her mother would always recite to lift her spirits up. 

“God will not test his slave(s) if they can’t handle it.” 

Know someone who is taking care of a loved one afflicted with a serious illness? Learn how you can better support them at nsman.safra.sg/how-to-support-someone-with-depression-avoid-caregiver-burnout

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