Pham Thi Hue might come across as a normal amateur actress, but little do people know that the 22-year-old beautiful girl has been fighting liver cancer for the past six years.
It is rather hard to tell the cancer patient from any ordinary people thanks to her positive attitude toward life.
Leading a normal life
Just like any other students, Hue, born in the northern province of Thai Binh, graduated from high school and made a significant effort to pass the national exam to enter university.
She was admitted to the Hanoi University of Agriculture, from which she graduated with her thesis on making wine from red dragon fruit, a tropical fruit native to Vietnam.
Hue managed to lead a seemingly ‘normal’ life despite being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 16, when she was in the middle of high school.
“When I was first diagnosed with the fatal illness, I was still too young to understand my condition so I did not give it much thought,” Hue admitted.
“Only after chemotherapy sessions was I worried and scared of death.”
After the diagnosis, Hue’s parents wanted her to pause her studies to focus on medical treatments which could improve her condition. But Hue disagreed.
“I only agreed to start receiving treatment if I was allowed to resume my studies,” Hue explained her efforts to lead a life undisturbed by her illness.
After the first diagnosis, the young Hue was told she had only three years to live because of the fast growth of the tumor in her liver.
“I knew that life is finite, but I never thought the finiteness was so short and clear,” Hue said.
Having been given a ‘deadline’ on her own life, the young patient was left in devastation, despair, and disappointment.
However, she did not allow the negative feelings to take over her for long, and soon she was back on her feet setting out goals for the short time she has left with the people she loved.
“I could not let the illness kill me with the accompanying sadness and negativity when my body is very much alive,” Hue talked about the change in her attitude.
Two goals that Hue first set for herself were attending classes and passing the national exam to go to college.
Hue also participates in “Memento Mori Journey – Pass Death to Think About Life," a community project which consists of several theatrical performances.
The performance Hue is participating in is based on a book named "Diem den cuoc doi" (A Destination in Life), authored by Dang Hoang Giang, which tells a story about a cancer patient named Lien.
Lien, played by Hue, is an ambitious girl who passes away five years after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
‘Love? Of course’
When she was asked about her ‘love’ experience, the 22-year-old smiled while giving an unexpected answer: “Love? Of course, I am still young,” indicating it is one of the most important parts of being young, and living to the fullest.
While Hue was still in hospital she got to know another male patient diagnosed with bone cancer.
The two went along well and soon fell in love despite the limited time both had.
Hue was soon discharged from the hospital and was visiting her partner in the hospital whenever she could.
The man’s cancer soon spread to his lungs, leaving him with only a few months to live.
Hue clearly recalled the last time she visited her partner in the hospital.
“I went into his ward [in the hospital] and was told he was in the emergency room,” she said. “That was the last day I visited him.”
“As his mother was filling in the forms to discharge him from the hospital, I was holding him and he hugged me back. We both did not say a thing. Half an hour after he got home, he passed away,” Hue said sadly.
Not running away from death
“I admire Hue for not trying to run away from death,” Dr. Giang, the book author and screenwriter at Memento Mori Journey, said of the brave girl.
“She acknowledges how little time she has left and calmly welcomes it, while other people in similar circumstances would have run away in fear.
“Another admirable thing about Hue is that when she accepted her special circumstances, she started looking for every way to bring happiness to others, to help people find their motivation for the time they have left.”
Unfortunately, a positive attitude is not enough to keep the reality and brutality of the illness away.
“Doctors told me they do not have any other tricks up their sleeve for me anymore,” Hue said.
Ten days before the September 21-22 show in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, Hue experienced an unbearable pain that she had “no words to describe.”
“I thought I would not be able to play Lien one more time, but I got better and was on my way once again,” Hue recalled the most recent bad moments of her illness.
The doctors' words were clear - Hue is running out of time and they can no longer help her prolong it.
However, it did not seem to budge the 22-year-old.
“I believe in their words but I am not scared of death,” she said calmly with a stern voice.
“Every day I live to the fullest while studying, falling in love, and contributing to this society.
“I try to gather a hundred-year-long life in a day I am living in while preparing myself for death.
“For me, tomorrow is only planned when today is fully completed and filled with new experiences rather than just assuming tomorrow will come.”
Hue has a stern belief in the importance of not letting the illness get to a patient and let them ‘die’ before their last breath.
Many people live in sadness, despair, and hopelessness ever since they are diagnosed, which makes the rest of their life meaningless, according to Hue.
Hence, she stands by her advice to every other patient diagnosed with the deadly disease: “We have to choose for ourselves a positive attitude for an inevitable journey.”
Memento Mori is the medieval Latin Christian theory and practice of reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits.
This theory inspired Dr. Dang Hoang Giang and director Marcus Manh Cuong Vu to produce several short theatrical performances named “Memento Mori Journey – Pass Death to Think About Life," one of which features Pham Thi Hue.
It soon became a community project aimed at reminding people of the finiteness of life and for the audience to have a peak in the importance of each day in cancer patients’ lives.
Pham Thi Hue is not the only actress with the fatal illness to take part in the community project.