Staff members at the CanHOPE centre in Hanoi seek to build a relationship with cancer patients in their care.
Her work as a journalist opened her eyes to the plight of poor people around her.
And when she moved to Singapore for three years because her husband was posted to work there, Ms Pham Hong Linh volunteered at a halfway house for drug addicts. Exposed to the underbelly of society, she learned about dealing with people who needed help.
Her experiences as a journalist and as a volunteer social worker prompted Ms Pham to join Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC) in 2002 and she was tasked with opening its CanHOPE centre in Hanoi in northern Vietnam.
“I learnt a lot in my time in Singapore, how to listen to what people need before offering suggestions on how to help them,” she said. “It was a big responsibility, but I felt ready for the challenge.”
Having connections in Vietnam helped her, especially in the initial stages. Her mother is a doctor who works at Vietnam’s Ministry of Health while Ms Pham’s past connections in the media also went a long way in gaining publicity for the centre.
“I get a lot of support from my mum, who introduced me to her colleagues and other people in the medical industry,” Ms Pham said. “I guess you could say I made use of her connections for a good cause.”
The centre is now manned by six women, including Ms Pham. Most of the staff members there have been with the centre since the start, with the newest member having worked there for seven years.
“This continuity is good for the patient,” said Ms Pham. “It is often a long journey for cancer patients. It is good for them that they see familiar faces here all the time throughout the years.”
She added: “At the same time, it also means that the staff at the centre can build on our experience and knowledge and use that improved ability to help the patients.”
Ms Pham and her staff are on call 24-7 for patients. “Most of the patients become friends. Most of the time, we know the patients’ situations even better than their own family members do.”
The centre has also organised yoga classes for patients as well as other activities to help improve their health.
But 12 years of watching patients come and go can have a sobering effect on anyone. Ms Pham recalls a liver cancer patient who had been an army general. He was lucky enough that two relatives could donate their liver to him. But in a cruel twist of fate, by the time the operation was about to be done, the tumour had become bigger and a transplant had to be ruled out.
“Even if you are very rich, you can’t do anything if fate decides so. I learnt a lot from this episode – when your time is up, that’s it,” she said. “That has helped me to make sure that I live my life as best as I can, work hard and play hard too,” said the mother of two young daughters.
Ms Pham’s 67-year-old father was himself a cancer patient at PCC about six years ago. Now, he is still very active, playing badminton three times a week and studying for his PhD.
In June 2013, the centre celebrated its 10th anniversary with cancer survivors, some of whom had been with the centre since it opened.
“We celebrated their winning the battle against cancer,” said Ms Pham.
By Ben Tan
Tags: CanHOPE, experience with cancer patient