Original article was written by Valerie & printed by Happy Magazine in 2019
This blog story begins in December 2014, my family were very lucky to travel to Vietnam for two months. My husband Finbarr had the opportunity to work at a Vietnamese university. We were very excited to have this adventure with our children, who were aged seven, five, and three years old at the time.
We were staying in the city of Can Tho, which is south of Ho Chi Minh City. Almost as soon as we arrived, we fell in love with the city and its people. The Vietnamese people are the friendliest of people, constantly smiling and appear very content and happy in their lives.
Through Finbarr’s work at the university, he met with medical workers. A very nice Australian Doctor, Julie, was one of the group and she became friendly with our family. Julie had lived in Can Tho for some time and was working at the local hospital in Oncology.
On mentioning my work, which is a Mastectomy Fitting Service based in my home county of Limerick, she was very interested to know what supports women in Ireland received. Government supports in Ireland, for women who had breast cancer surgery, are good. Breast prostheses, mastectomy bras, and mastectomy swimwear are provided yearly, for women who have medical cards or private health insurance. We chatted about the supports around the world and she offered to introduce me to Dr. Trung who was head of the Breast Clinic in Can Tho Hospital. Naturally, there was a genuine interest in finding out what kind of supports are provided for Vietnamese women and the offer of being introduced to the Doctor was very welcome.
Having met up with Dr. Trung for coffee it was easy to take an instant liking to this young Doctor who came from the countryside of the Mekong region. He had been working in Can Tho Oncology for a number of years and it was obvious, how passionate he was about his work and how much he cared for his patients. He spoke about the women and mentioned how little they had and how he hoped one day that things would improve with Government support.
The hospital relied on outside help and had recently received a new x-ray machine, donated from India. Dr. Trung also told me that along with others, he had been involved in setting up a Breast Cancer Group. I told him that I had trained in America as a Mastectomy Prostheses Fitting Specialist and had set up my post-operative Mastectomy Service in the Mid-West, the Munster Region of Ireland, just the year before, in 2013. He was very keen for me to meet his patients at the hospital and asked me to talk to them about life for women in America and Europe who had gone through breast cancer. It was a distinct pleasure to do so and a few weeks later having organised a presentation, I was looking forward to meeting with Dr. Trung’s patients at Can Tho Hospital.
Dr. Trung stressed that he really wanted me to convey to all his patients that wherever we are in the world, we have the same concerns and thoughts once we are given a cancer diagnosis. This fact is so important and it was agreed to bring it into the presentation.
With the help of a translator and many slides, I hoped to give a few ideas to the women in Can Tho as to what can be done in building back, confidence and surety, where it was lost.
The day we got together
Everything begins early in Vietnam. The meeting was scheduled for 7:30 am on a Saturday morning. When walking into a room full of people, it was amazing how instantly the emotions kicked in, even amidst all these complete strangers. Everybody was early, seated, and waiting for me, which was a little overwhelming and it really made me want to help in any way possible. Greeted with hugs and kisses it’s was a real treasured memory. Nervous because of the language barrier, and only knowing two words of Vietnamese, xin chào and cảm ơn bạn (hello and thank you), it was immediately remembered how important body language is. Smiling, nodding and shaking hands can make a better connection between people than any conversation could. This had already been apparent when my own kids played with Vietnamese kids during our trip and at their day school. It was all very welcoming.
In all, twenty-three patients past and present from the hospital came along, some from the city and some from the villages situated along the Mekong. A few family members attended, including one husband who hoped to learn something for his wife, who had just undergone surgery the day before.
Once Dr. Trung’s introductions were made, it’s hoped the presentation aided by an Interpreter helped in some way. These women did not receive any government assistance. If they did not have private health insurance, then they had to pay for their treatment in full. If they could not pay, then they were not treated. It was as stark as that. The objective for me was to give as much information as possible on products we use, hoping that these women could take some inexpensive ideas with them on their road to recovery.
We talked about the differences and similarities between the different countries. I measured each woman and made a promise to send mastectomy bras and accessories as a donation from, Valerie’s Breast Care.
Dr. Trung showed me around the hospital afterwards. Conditions were not so good. Two or three women had to share a bed. Many women were on temporary beds in the corridors. The hospital staff had to work with a small amount of equipment and space. It was difficult to see.
However walking through, there was the chance to meet some of the women from the breast cancer group that had been at the presentation and it was very obvious that they had great camaraderie among each other. There was a lot of laughter and definitely a bit of craic.
A favourite photo from the day was the one above, of the women eating lunch together in the outdoor area of the hospital. It shows happy people supporting each other.
Needless to say, on getting back to Limerick, the promised package of mastectomy bras with accessories was sent over, and they were so grateful.
Dr. Trung and I are still in contact. We send each other greetings every New Year, both his and mine, and it’s hoped someday, to get to visit Can Tho and the breast clinic again.
We are all the same
Looking back on the photos brings up emotions of that time, thinking of these women and the support they had for each other. Having had this experience in Vietnam, with these wonderful people, it motivated me to look up mastectomy shops, visits when possible and gain a broad appreciation for what other countries provide for women going through breast cancer.
It makes the world so much smaller when seeing that basically, we are all the same, wherever we live. We still have the same concerns, worries, and thoughts. Which goes to prove that supporting each other and being kind to each other means everything.
For many Valerie’s Breast Care is just one of those first organisations you can reach out to when picking up the pieces and moving on from what has been a particularly difficult time. I’m so glad to have this opportunity to extend a very warm welcome to everyone.
Valerie Murphy, Valerie’s Breast Care
Mobile: 085 160 1783
I love to chat and you can call me directly on 085 160 1783.