EXCLUSIVE: Celebrity Designer Patricia Santos Opens Up About Battling Cancer For The Second Time
Sometimes, fate conspires to make big things happen—a career promotion, a second chance at a relationship, or a winning ticket to a 1 billion-peso lottery draw. But for us, fate intervened in miniscule ways, nudging us to a Thursday morning photo shoot with Patricia Santos.
When the designer-to-the-stars invited us to visit her newly-opened atelier two days before, we confirmed right away. After all, we’d been hankering to feature her ever since she hinted building a new atelier when we photographed her in her old one in Pasig before.
Yet with less than 48 hours to prepare for an exclusive feature, putting a team together was a tall order. We asked, "Would it be possible to reschedule the shoot?" The answer came back: No, it wasn’t. Not because Patricia didn’t want to—but because she had a neck surgery scheduled on Friday, which required her to rest afterwards.
Only a few months ago, Patricia opened up to Metro.Style about her life—how she rose above the struggle of being an independent designer and made a name for herself in this fast-paced industry. Back then, she also talked about her even bigger battle against thyroid cancer.
But it turned out that the battle was yet to end. “I was already cleared a year ago—and I thought everything was okay. But recently, it came back.” However, Patricia remains steadfast, prepared to win against it, all over again.
On that Thursday morning, Patricia was not only ready to open the doors of her new studio, but also to reveal the next chapter of her life.
A day in the life of Patricia Santos
We stepped inside her cavern in Taguig, and espied a chic studio with floor-to-ceiling windows, marble floors, and spacious, picture-perfect fitting rooms every bride-to-be dreams of. Our eyes ran to Patricia, who stood in the middle of the room, flashing a warm smile. “Welcome to my new atelier!” she beamed, ever her bubbly self.
It was a busy morning. Final touches were being made to the new space—a man was putting up wallpaper, a lady rearranging mannequins in another corner. Patricia brought out Hermès teacups, setting them on the table. She loves welcoming her guests so much, she plans to host tea parties at her new studio. “Care for some coffee?” she asked. For a much sought-after designer like her, caffeine is a must.
After getting our coffee fix, we witnessed the top designer at work. Her muse Lovi Poe and stylist Adrianne Concepcion arrived just in time for a scheduled fitting. Bringing out a tulle, powder blue ball gown, everyone couldn’t help but oooh and aahh at Patricia’s Cinderella-esque creation, which the actress wore to Rajo Laurel's 25th anniversary show at the Red Charity Gala. As she helped Lovi into her princess dress, Patricia was a fairy godmother making dreams come true.
After the jam-packed morning, it was finally time for the interview. We sat on a couch she designed herself, sparing a moment to take in the breathtaking skyline from her office window. The voice recorder turned on, a signal for her to begin her story.
Battling against cancer for the second time
“I’m super scared,” she opened up. “I haven’t told anyone about this yet.”
Still, the designer was all smiles as she told us more about her then impending surgery. Though she considered having the operation done next year, she eventually decided to do it earlier. After all, to start 2019 anew, she had to let go of her worries—this operation included.
“I’m more scared now, just because I feel like I have more to lose. When you love your life and you’ve invested so much, you’re just scared that something might go wrong—that you might lose everything. But I’m praying that things get better.” And even in tough times, Patricia thinks of others. “I want my clients to trust me—that even though I’m experiencing this, I am very responsible. I’ll make sure everything is taken care of. There is nothing to worry.” Her voice started to crack, but she gracefully managed to stop tears from flowing.
“I used to be very afraid of interviews because there’s a lot about myself that I wasn’t happy about,” she continued. “But I realized it’s not a bad thing after all. I think it’s courageous! When you start sharing your story, people who are also going through difficulties will relate with you. They might even be encouraged and inspired. So keep fighting, and share your story. Even if you’re vulnerable—share your story.”
So today, I still can’t believe I just had my 2nd neck surgery. It’s been a really though road fighting against cancer and I’ve never been more scared than ever, I almost literally backed out of my surgery but I have faith that God is with me and he will heal me and thats what’s keeping me strong and positive. I’m so looking forward the day i can say that I got through it! This is definitely just another bump in the road. I’m so grateful to have the best doctors to look after me. Thank you for my successful surgery really hoping that this is the last! haha Thank you to my family, friends and everyone who’s sending they’re prayers. So much love! Sharing this to all of you guys makes me feel so vulnerable but I just want everyone to know that we are never alone. No matter what you are going through, we can get through it in this life if we entrust everything to God. ? I will definitely come back stronger after this cause I have a lot more to give! nothing can dim the light that is from within! ??
On staying positive
With her contagious smile and warm, cheerful personality, Patricia’s cancer journey came as a surprise to a lot of people, friends and fans included. “A lot of people tell me that I don’t look sick, but that’s because I don’t want others to worry about me. I grew up looking after others, because I’m very maalaga. I like making others smile.”
For Patricia, it’s all about staying strong. “Focus your energy on choosing happiness. Keep fighting, because God will always be there for you. He knows what’s inside your heart," she shared.
“I just feel super blessed because no matter what happened to me, I’m here, and God loves me,” she emphasized. “I have so much faith in Him. I also receive great support from friends, family, and even clients. Seeing them happy makes me happy.”
Life isn’t always what you see on Instagram
With thousands of followers on social media, Instagram-worthy travel moments, and a wardrobe worth coveting, it’s easy to think that Patricia’s life is perfect. But the designer underscores that it’s not—nobody’s life is. “A lot of people on Instagram, especially younger girls, think that everything in other lives is beautiful. They might even say, Bakit ganu'n? Sila swerte, ako malas. But all of these ‘beautiful’ things came with hard work. When I started out, I didn’t have much—I didn’t have anything at all! You have to work for it. Have a vision and set your mind to it. Set a goal every year, do it step by step. Don’t overwhelm yourself.”
Staying grounded amidst success
Nothing can stop Patricia from creating more dresses, from dreaming big, and from ticking off more goals in her bucket list. Not even thyroid cancer.
To accomplish all that, the celebrity designer, whose roster of loyal clients include A-listers Lovi Poe, Kathryn Bernardo, Coleen Garcia, and Elisse Joson, believes that staying grounded is a must. “When people say 'Pat, ang galing mo,' I always reply that it’s not just about me. I am here because of everyone I’ve met through the years.”
Sometimes, Patricia would get text messages from former clients asking if she still remembers them. She would always reply—"'Of course I do. You’re my bride!' I'm still the same Pat. Maybe the environment has changed, or the way people perceive me has changed, but I’ve never changed. I still remember the names—and the dresses—of each and every one of my brides.”
And even after attaining celebrity status, Patricia has not forgotten where she came from. “I always look back at what my life was before, and I feel blessed.” Starting with only one sewing machine and a mere 30,000-peso capital, Patricia worked her way to the top of the game. From riding jeepneys in Divisoria and working hours on end inside her sister’s garage, Patricia went through sweat and tears to get to where she is today. “Dati, I didn’t have money at all. It’s either saktong-sakto lang or kulang. But now, I have more—and what do I do with all these? Share. Share it with everyone.”
For the top designer, the old saying rings true: the more you give, the more you receive. “When you are generous, people will never forget about your kindness.”
Supporting the next generation of fashion
Indeed, Patricia is generous—especially with her experience. The proof? She recently launched an internship program for aspiring fashion designers.
If she could go back in time, Patricia would have tried to work, or even intern, for another designer. But since she was scared of making mistakes, she did everything on her own. “I had a hard time because it was a hit or miss kind of thing. If I learned from another person, things wouldn’t have been as tough as they seemed. I wouldn’t have made a lot of mistakes. Back then, I didn’t know much about business—I thought that once you’re passionate about something, then you’re good to go. But it’s also important to learn and to study.”
Patricia is excited to share her six years of experience with young Filipino designers, mentoring them as they turn their dreams into reality. “I want them to experience what it’s like here, so that they’ll be inspired and say ‘One day, I want my own atelier, too.’”
For the veteran designer, training fashion designers is one way of supporting Philippine fashion. “Instead of thinking that they’d become your competitors one day, we should support the next generation to help our industry grow bigger. There’s a lot of room for everyone.”
She also highlighted how important it is for designers to discover their own signature style. That way, people who identify with their aesthetic will be drawn to their creations. The end result: every designer has their own trademark look, so there’s no need to compete among themselves.
The future of Patricia Santos Atelier
So what happens next?
The designer stared across the horizon with glistening eyes. “I want my brand to go international. And one day, I want to launch my own furniture line, too.”
“But, first things first—I’ll go through my neck surgery tomorrow,” Patricia quipped. “Shucks, I’m going to look like Frankenstein!” she laughed, pointing to the lump on her neck.
I smiled, looking at her. What I saw wasn’t a fictional character that appears during Halloween. I saw a strong, determined woman reaching for her dreams.
I saw a fighter with a beautiful smile—and an even more beautiful heart.
Photographs by Nice Print Photography