"What did I do wrong? Why me? What could I have done differently?"
Anh Nguyen demanded of herself when the doctor told her she had brain cancer.
Below is my interview with Anh where she shares who she is and how she embraces her life as she continues with incurable brain cancer.
Anh Nguyen interview with Tina Tang. Reading time: 3 minutes
How old are you?
You just graduated. From where and studying what?
NJCU. I got a Bachelor’s of Arts. I had an associate’s degree in Fashion but found that the jobs I pursed with that were not satisfying. I went back to school to study my original passion: art.
When were you detected with cancer?
I had my first seizure before age 25. When I went to the hospital, they found nothing unusual in my MRI or Cat scans. The doctors thought it was possibly triggered by stress.
About 4-5 years ago, I started getting more seizures and severe headaches. It was then the hospital found brain cancer in the MRI and Cat scans.
How did you take the news?
I was in complete denial. I felt fine. It couldn’t be possible. A year in after the first diagnosis, I went to other specialists and hospitals to get other opinions. The doctors all insisted on the same diagnosis and that I start treatment.
I kept thinking, “What did I do wrong? Why me? What could I have done differently?”
The doctors explained that most brain cancers have no known cause. For some, it just appears. Doctors have little insight on who may develop brain cancer.
How did your family take the news?
I kept my cancer secret for a year. I didn’t tell friends nor family.
Why would you carry such a burden?
In some ways, I was being selfish. I didn’t want anyone to treat me any differently. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. So, I didn’t tell anyone. In a way, not telling made it less real.
My mother was also travelling often to Vietnam that year to take care of family. My grandmother is old and my mom was caring for her. My mom had deep regret being away from family members who passed away earlier that year. I didn’t want her to have that regret again with her mother. My family had their own problems. As much as it was stressful for me, I didn’t want to burden them, too.
What has your treatment been?
Usually the first step of brain cancer is surgery. My cancer is too close to my brain stem for surgery so the doctors opted for chemo. The chemo had the opposite intended effect. Instead of slowing the cancer, the chemo made my cancer grow rapidly.
So what are you doing now?
There is no suitable solution right now. I take steroids for the swelling in my brain, and meds for my seizures. I’m waiting to be accepted into test trials.
How has all this affected your everyday life?
I refuse to waste my time. I embrace all my moments and seize opportunities that seem like I may never have again.
Doctors told me not to go ziplining when I went to Costa Rica. When is the next time I will be there? I ziplined. I did a 5K last year for brain tumor awareness. I’ve been doing a lot of things doctors tell me not to because I don’t know how much time I have.
My motto is to “Collect moments not things”.
What are you doing now that you’ve graduated with your Bachelor’s of Arts?
I freelance as a graphic artist. I work for a few companies including the blogger, Chicpea JC. Currently, I am looking for full time employment.
Do you have any siblings?
Older sister 31, younger brother 22. He just graduated from Rutgers.
How has your diet or fitness changed since being diagnosed with cancer?
I have to rethink food. I considered going vegan or vegetarian for better energy. However, it’s not a viable option since I would lose weight. My body needs to be enough to fight the cancer. It is better to be heavier than lighter. If I exercise, I will lose more weight. That has been hard since I’m a runner. Dropping weight from exercising won’t help me. However, I do like to stay active, so I still walk, hike, swim, etc.
How has having cancer changed you?
When you are told you may someday lose control of everything, it pushes you to work harder. I’ve adapted to it, and I refuse to take my time for granted. I refuse to waste time. I will relax and take my time, but I won’t waste my time. I hope my example can help change other people's perceptions of life, too.
The "Nevertheless, she persisted" necklace
is inspired by strong women like Anh. She embodies the passion for life through persistence.