In Vietnam, K is widely used as short for cancer, and K fighters look to those who persistently combat the disease for inspiration.
For years, many in Vietnam have considered a cancer diagnosis on par with a death sentence, but Dr. Pham Truong Giang hopes that by sharing his own personal battle with cancer, others will be inspired to fight back against the ruthless disease.
“I was first diagnosed with cancer 16 years ago and the disease has spread to four different areas of my body since,” the 64-year-old shared during an interview following an inspirational speech he gave at a conference in Da Nang.
In fact, Dr. Giang’s battle with cancer has been such a roller coaster ride of heartwarming successes and nasty setbacks that his family and friends often joke that he has the Guinness World Record for “Most Cancers.”
Five diagnoses in 16 years
Dr. Giang’s first run-in with cancer came in 2003, when he was 48 years old and working as a medic in the health unit at the Office of Education and Training, District 7, Ho Chi Minh City.
As a married man with two sons and a successful career, Dr. Giang felt as if his entire world was on the brink of collapse when doctors told him he had both intestine and colorectal cancers.
“I was totally devastated, perhaps much like many other patients. But I was lucky to have a wonderful wife who helped me come up with a plan,” he said.
“We had so many things to figure out, like if we should tell our sons and how I would keep up with my job.”
Just one week after his diagnosis, doctors operated on Dr. Giang.
In the end his stomach was fine, but he had to have half his colon removed.
|Dr. Pham Truong Giang and his wife, who has helped him combat his multiple cancers for 16 years. Photo: Supplied|
One surgery and nine chemotherapy sessions later, he was finally ready to embrace a new life.
He chose to retire early at age 49 and his wife quit her job as a nurse.
“I wasn’t able to pull myself together for a full month after the first operation. I was quite worried about what would happen to my life and my career,” he said.
But he was not out of the woods yet.
A year later, an endoscopic scan revealed that Dr. Giang had developed a stomach ulcer that would cost him two-thirds of his stomach and nine more chemotherapy sessions.
A new blow struck six years later when he developed pelvic colon cancer and was prescribed eight chemotherapy sessions and again in 2015, when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and had to undergo seven chemotherapy sessions.
“It was less horrifying the second time, but still really shocking. The fear was totally gone by the third operation, but the chemotherapy sessions still wore me out.”
Most recently, in June 2018, he was told by doctors that he was having cancer recurrence in his colon.
Keeping calm and facing the devil
Nguyen Thi Bich Chau, a dermatologist and cancer patient, has been diagnosed twice with cancer.
“I was told I had both thyroid and ovarian cancers, but luckily they were both detected in stage one. Still, the cancer cells could spread to other organs like what happened to Dr. Giang,” she said.
But even with the odds stacked against her, Chau never lost hope.
“Others were deeply concerned with my sickness, but I didn’t have a problem with it. Facing it gave meaning to my life. I’ve been in the surgery room eight times!” she exclaimed.
|Luong Ngoc Van Anh (center) wears a bright smile while fighting breast cancer. Photo: Salt Cancer Initiative|
Luong Ngoc Van Anh, 43, had a much more difficult time accepting her breast cancer diagnosis two years ago while she was working at a social support unit for the mentally ill in Binh Phuoc Province, southern Vietnam.
“It took me days to process,” she said.
But being the single mother of a nine-year-old daughter, Anh had to put her best foot forward and stand up to the disease.
She has thrived until now.
But keeping her chin up does not mean chemotherapy and surgery have not taken their toll.
“It’s doesn’t help to just put on a sad face. Instead I do a lot of research and participate in the cancer patient community. I often meet with people who have it much worse than I do,” she explained.
“Take Dr. Giang for example. Cancer appears to strike him every few years. To people like us, cancer just seems like an old friend.”