Who was affected?
My mom. She’s no longer here but she was part of the whole concept of breast cancer in my life. I don’t know if there was a history of breast cancer. She came here from Vietnam and she tried talking to them [her family] over there but we don’t know.
This all happened in 2011. There was a few times she would tell me to go to the doctor and check yourself out here and there. We’re an Asian family. They [the parents] don’t go to a doctor themselves; they [just] try to cover it up. I had a checkup for myself and we checked her in too. [During the checkup], the nurses were telling me, “We need to send you to this place for a mammogram, stat.” They didn’t tell us directly that it was breast cancer; they just said that it was lump and that’s where it began.
It was a long process of chemotherapy, almost two and half years. A lot of doctor appointments here and there. I was still going to school and trying to get my doctorate degree. It was just my mom and I. It was difficult. Everybody left at that same time, they all moved out on their own – sister was up in LA, younger brothers was up in LA, older brother out on his own. It was me mostly combining everything together and trying to get the family to participate a lot. But, it’s been like this growing up, everyone doing their own stuff. Being the third child, I was the communication between my mom and my family. I got used to just doing it and not asking for help.
We finished chemotherapy in 2013 of October and that’s when they said, “It got really small now so you guys are good. The nodules in her lungs are disappearing, the liver looks ok, there’s nothing really active. The main thing is that you have a big mass in her breast.” They offered the option to do a mastectomy. We were like this is progress for us so were going to take it. I remember going there early in the morning and she didn’t know what was going on. My mom, she takes things as is. When she got out [of surgery], she was just lying there and she was like, “Okay, when are we going in?” They [had] drugged her when she went in [and] when she woke up she was like, “I’m so dry” and I’m like, “Its ok were almost done.” She was like, “Oh, when are we going to go in though?” I said, “You just came out.” She looked at her breast and there was tape on it and she just said, “Oh, so that’s why there’s tape on me.” It was a partial [mastectomy] so they didn’t have to take everything out, she responded really well to the chemo.
A change in progress.
We thought we were pretty much done and they were going to set us up for radiation. But things kind of went down hill a little bit. After a while, when she was at home, she was having trouble walking and trying to grab things. During treatment, I was always going to school. I would come back [to her], make dinner, then I would go to work, then come back during break to make sure she was eating, and then go back to work. It was a lot of back and forth with things. A lot of time managing. Whenever I would get home during my break, the house was a mess because she was trying to walk and she was knocking things over. I’m like this isn’t right. I remember this one time I was like, “Don’t try to walk around so much, we’re trying to figure out what’s going on.” When I came home [later that day], she fell and hit her head when she was trying to go outside. She would try to grab her cup but would miss it. I called the doctor and he said, “Maybe she hit her head and there was internal bleeding.” So, when I went to the hospital, they said there was a mass that they found. They weren’t too sure if it was a new mass or the breast cancer mass. But, breast cancer itself tends to go to the spinal cord and then goes to the brain [and] most likely that was what happened. The sad part is that we didn’t know it was there. It was the size of a golf ball. They put the radiation on hold and said, “Don’t worry about the chest too much because we already got it. Lets focus on the head now because anything with the brain, vessels could break and it could get worse.”
The emotions felt.
There was a few times that I blew up [on my family] saying, “You guys aren’t doing what you can do, I’m here and I’m doing what I can. I’m sacrificing my time.” During the time when she couldn’t walk too much, she basically became a small baby at home. I had to take her to restroom and help her walk. I basically woke up every two hours at night because I would hear her moving, trying to get up. It was hard having everyone on the same page because we were trying to update each other all the time. The family was the only thing we had. We did have our meetings and it actually brought us closer. Sometimes it strayed off a little bit and that’s where we would have to get the meeting again to get us back together and see the bigger picture of what was going on. It was just a roller coaster ride, like “Yeah, we’re almost there!” and then it would go down. It was crazy. It was just going up and down and always hoping it was going to be better. Talking to the nurses, they tried to get us to see the bigger picture. With me being in healthcare, I know yeah, it is bad but you always have that chance of saying, “Yeah, she’s still here with us and it’s going to be okay.” Even when you’re prepared for it, you’re never ready.
Who or what helped him through the process.
My classmates helped me a lot actually; a lot of school, a lot of studying, a lot of late nights – I don’t sleep much. During that time I became the classmate that they would ask, “How many hours did you sleep today?” I’m just like, “The usual two hours.”
When there was an appointment I would head back to Orange County, and when I finished, I would come back down to San Diego. It was just jumping back and forth and doing stuff. I work hard and when I think about it, I try not to take things lightly.
His advice to those in need.
Just based on what I know, positivity goes a long way. It’s not about bashing yourself or bashing her [his mom]. We have to think about what we have to do now, this is happening so let’s plan. It’s just staying ahead of the game. Life does have a purpose. Don’t think badly about everything; it’s going to wear you down a lot.
Clarifying the misconceptions and assumptions.
When people think about cancer, they think its like death. Cancer is death. But, there is an experience from it. I want to say, don’t think about it like it’s a story that’s going to end because there’s so much more to it. You can live above the cancer and how it influences you. Don’t think about it as a one-way trip. It’s not going to be all dark. There’s a lot of positivity coming out it. In a good way, it did bring my family closer.
A Note from Trong.
With everything that has happened, I know I couldn't have gone through this without my family: my brothers Johnson Nguyen and Michael Nugyen, and my sister Toni Nguyen. Family has always been first on my list, and I love them to death. I also want to say thanks to all my friends for their support, love and prayers. And, especially to my mother, Hoa Luong, who showed me how to be strong by being with her to the very end. She is the true meaning of strength, and for that I will always love her. I lost a part of myself that day and I know it doesn’t get any easier but we get better at it. Keep smiling from above. And thanks to Blends also!
Blends would like to extend our gratitude to Trong for sharing his time and his journey.