It is 9:00 am on very gray Saturday morning in Hanoi. Chris and I are trying to locate the room where we are meeting Dr. Dieu Linh Nguyen and Mrs. Huong Phung Thi and their Breast Cancer Club. Smiling faces gently point us up the grand old staircase in the K cancer hospital to the second floor auditorium. I am thinking there are quite a lot of people here for a Saturday morning.
Dr. Linh and Mrs Huong are two inspirational women. Mrs. Huong was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2007. She had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Dr Linh was her oncologist and thankfully she has made a complete and total recovery. Dr. Linh had won a grant to study at the University of Wisconsin Cancer Center. She was impressed by the survivor support groups she saw there and felt there was a real need for this in Vietnam. Upon her return to Hanoi she recruited Mrs. Huong to start a support group. They have no assistance from the government, they are completely self funded. The 2 hour meeting/lecture that we sat in on had about 100 men and women in attendance. They were cancer patients, survivors and care givers there. Dr. Linh and Mrs. Huong hold these meetings the last Saturday of every month. They are open to anyone who wishes to attend. Each month they give a lecture and focus on different topics including general health, cancer awareness and prevention. They also provide an open forum for patients and care givers as well as the general public to ask questions and share their feelings and thoughts about their own situations. Every 3 months they take a field trip to the ward to visit with patients. They organize festivals and performances for children with cancer, especially those from the rural areas who have never had the opportunity to see these things. They also try to raise money for cancer patients with lesser means. What these two women are doing is simply amazing. They are providing the sole support service for all cancer patients in the Hanoi area, on their own, in their spare time (which isn’t much as Dr. Linh is a surgical oncologist, Mrs. Huong works as a deputy manager for the Vietnam Environment Protection Fund), and out of their own pockets. We were really in awe of what they have accomplished. Their enthusiasm, commitment and dedication are truly inspirational.
As we traveled around Vietnam over the next few weeks we realized that they would be the ONLY cancer support group that we would see in the entire country. It seems to be a very new concept here, but I really feel that support groups would be an invaluable resource for both the patients and the incredibly overtaxed health care system here. I will try to do my best to help connect Dr. Linh and Mrs. Huong with other support groups and associations that I have met and try to draw some attention to their cause so they themselves can have some support in the work they are doing.