Afraid of not waking up again after falling asleep. Losing your most precious memories, unable to remember even your loved ones. Battling with a life-threatening illness. There will be a moment where a person has to decide whether they would bow down to the fear or fight it with all their might. Her refusal to surrender is what drove Nguyen Thi Kieu Vuong, a young lawyer from Vietnam, to seek treatment at the Horizon Regional Cancer Center at Bumrungrad International Hospital.
Her story began in 2014, when the doctor suspected she had breast cancer. “At first, I just felt some pain in my chest area, so I went to see the doctor. They took some tissue samples from me, and eventually I was diagnosed with lymphoma (a type of blood cancer, developing in white blood cells). I was shocked; I really didn’t know what to do,” she recounted.
“I underwent treatment at a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City and did eight sessions of chemotherapy. The tumor disappeared, but not long after that I started feeling weak and had severe headaches. I went to see the doctor again and found that the cancer had returned. The cancer in my lymph nodes had spread to my brain. I was extremely stressed and anxious”
A new beginning at the Horizon Regional Cancer Center
The urgency of her condition, and her own awareness that the disease could cause major complications for her both physically and mentally, led Ms. Vuong to expand her search for treatment options.
“The question of where to seek treatment weight heavily on me. I knew that I would have to wait quite a long time to be seen by Vietnam’s best oncologists. I was afraid that I simply wouldn’t last that long. But not long before that, I had met a cancer survivor who shared some of their experiences. Some of my friends were also quite knowledgeable about this topic. They all recommended that I seek treatment at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Thailand.
Actually, there were few other potential options in South Korea, Singapore, and even in the United States. In the end, I chose Bumrungrad because I had been to Thailand on holiday before, and I enjoyed the experience. Bangkok is just a two-hour flight away, and Bumrungrad also has a good reputation for cancer treatment. The cost of treatment was also highly competitive compared with other options,
so I decided to come to Thailand.”
During treatment for cancer that was spread into her brain, there was one incident which gave renewed her strength to carry on.
“When I first came for treatment here, the doctor ordered a course of chemotherapy to begin with. When my white blood cells dwindled, medication was given until I was strong enough for the next round of chemotherapy. I went through 12 courses of chemotherapy in total. After I was done with the chemotherapy, the doctor told me what was to come next. I was to undergo surgery to remove the cancer from my brain, and stem cell therapy using my own stem cells. I was quite anxious about it all. I was afraid of not waking up after the operation. I was afraid that I would lose my memory, and not be able to remember anyone, even my own family. I was afraid that I might even die on the operating table.
” she said, reliving the fear and anxiety through her facial expressions as she recalled those moments.
“But the doctor maintained his usual smiling, positive attitude. He even reassured me that I’ll wake up feeling as fresh as if I’d received a new head! It sounds silly, but it really made me feel better. But when the day of the operation came, fear took ahold of me once more. Just before the operation was scheduled to start, my hands were as cold as ice. But would you believe it, a nurse noticed and held my hand in both of hers. The coldness melted away and was replaced by a warmth that I cannot fully describe.
The operation went ahead successfully.”
The best treatment comes from ourselves
Ms. Vuong is now cancer-free, though she continues to have follow-up checks every six months. She has been back for these checks without fail for the past five years.
“I have to thank everyone at Horizon for returning me to good health. My memory is still good! I must also thank the doctor for helping me regain all the happiness that I had before the illness. I am also deeply thankful to the nurse who, even though we do not know each other, was so genuinely compassionate and warm towards me in the moment of my greatest fear. It was these little things, these small kindnesses that constantly flowed from the staff around me that really left an impression upon me.
I have never been cared for like this before. I also noticed how professional everyone was, even the insertion of intravenous tubes was painless. The language barrier practically did not exist because there was an interpreter throughout every stage of treatment, which really helped with my peace of mind.
For everyone who is currently facing cancer, please know that half the effort lies with the hospital, but the other half is up to us.
We have to be our own cheerleader, we mustn’t give in to the disease, and most importantly we mustn’t try to treat ourselves without the input of doctors”, she said with a smile.