Potter Iskandar Jalil has Stage 4 prostate cancer but remains upbeat

One of Singapore's most renowned artists, potter Iskandar Jalil, is suffering from Stage 4 prostate cancer. -- PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN FILE
One of Singapore's most renowned artists, potter Iskandar Jalil, is suffering from Stage 4 prostate cancer. -- PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN FILE

One of Singapore's most renowned artists, potter Iskandar Jalil, is suffering from Stage 4 prostate cancer.

Yet, the 75-year-old Cultural Medallion recipient sounded upbeat over the weekend when Life! contacted him.

In his usual relaxed, chatty manner, he said over the telephone: "Why worry? I live month to month, day to day, minute to minute. What is important is I stay happy."

He first learnt of his condition in January this year, and recently completed radiation treatment.

The cancer was discovered during a routine check-up and he admits he was in a "state of shock for two to three days".

"Then I thought this is the way it was meant to be. I have lived and lived well for so many years," he said.

"How it happened, even I do not know," he said. "I have always lived a very healthy life. I exercise. I eat well. I run marathons."

He added that stress could have played a part. "One reason could be stress. Most probably that could be it. The way we live in Singapore is stressful."

In spite of his illness, Jalil, who is married to retired teacher Saleha and has two children in their 40s, says he has not made any major changes to his life since being diagnosed. He says his lifestyle "stays simple" - he goes to bed by around 9pm and is up at the crack of dawn.

"I still run four kilometres every alternate day and do my push-ups."

If anything, he says he has been spending more time with his family.

When Life! contacted him on Sunday, he was attending a wedding - the first of three that he was to attend that day.

Next week, he leaves for a holiday to Japan, a country that has greatly inspired him throughout his over 20 year-long career. Just last month he received the Japanese Foreign Minister's commendation for promoting friendship and cultural exchange between Japan and Singapore, and contributing to the increased recognition of Japanese culture in Singapore.

On how he has been feeling physically and how he coped with the radiation treatment, he said: "I still do not feel any pain. I have completed the treatment. I do enjoy going to the Cancer Centre and meeting all the doctors and nurses there and hearing their stories."

In October 2011, he spoke about his last solo exhibition in an interview with Life!. He said he was planning to participate only in group shows from then on.

At the time, he said: "I am in my 70s, it is time to slow down. My eyesight is not very good. I have been having problems with my right eye." In 2012, he underwent an eye operation to remove a cataract in his right eye.

The last group show he took part in was last year - his work was part of an exhibition titled SHAKEI - An exhibition by Iskandar Jalil and the Temasek Potters. Shown at Temasek Polytechnic, it featured clay forms inspired by traditional East Asian garden design.

Jalil received the Cultural Medallion in 1988. His works are in several private and public collections and murals created by him can be seen at the Tanjong Pagar MRT Station as well as Changi Airport's Terminal Two.

Gallerist Vera Ong of Art-2 Gallery, who has known him for 25 years and represented him exclusively for over two decades, says his positivity in spite of his illness does not surprise her.

"Iskandar has always been an incredibly positive person. He is not letting this get him down in any way. I met him two days ago. He is looking very good and importantly, he is taking this in his stride.

"That's Iskandar for you. I think everyone should follow his example. His positivity is infectious. Not once has he talked about pain or what it takes to undergo cancer treatment. Hats off to him."

deepikas@sph.com.sg