Written by daughter, Thao Nguyen
I was really not the primary caregiver when my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer. At the time of her diagnosis, I was actually 4 hours away in pharmacy school when I received the news. My oldest sister, Thu Cao, was the primary “caregiver.” She was there every step of the way with mom through the surgery, every chemo treatment, and into the unknown. I feel as though she made all of the sacrifices as the oldest child to make sure that things remained as normal as possible for not only my mom, but for all of my siblings. There were several of my siblings who had joined the work force or who, like myself, were in college earning a degree. There was something comforting about keeping things “normal” when our world was actually spinning out of control. We all became closer and everyone came together to pitch in as much as they could. We also offered “care” in other ways–we offered emotional support, strength, and prayers. The older siblings took on the task of caring for my younger siblings who were still living at home and who very much needed my mom.
She was diagnosed in 1999 at the age of 41. My mom had multiple visits to the emergency room prior to her diagnosis for generalized stomach pains and GI problems. Since she had no insurance at the time, she was sent home with prescriptions for acid reducers, etc. It was only when my family agreed to exploratory surgery did the doctors find the cancer. By then, it had already spread to a section of her liver and was in its advanced stages. The doctors could not give us a life expectancy time frame and the news was devastating to everyone in our family. I am the fourth child out of eleven kids in my family. At the time of her diagnosis, our youngest sibling, BJ, was only 6. The thought of having to help raise my younger siblings if anything were to happen to my mom was a large weight on our shoulders, not including the emotional impact we were facing. I remember one of the doctors saying, “If you had asked me what was the possibility of having a 41 year old, female, Asian woman coming in with GI problems that would ultimately be diagnosed with colon cancer, I would not have been able to guess that.” My mom was young, she had a large support team with her through family and friends, and we knew that we were going to fight, regardless of the odds. My mom put her faith in God and was very determined because her mom, my maternal grandmother, passed away in Vietnam when my mom was very young due to an unknown illness. My mom told us that she would not leave us and let us go through what she went through when her mom passed away. After diagnosis, my mom underwent surgery that removed a section of her colon and liver, then underwent chemo therapy for a few years. She has been in remission since then and we are thankful for everyday with her. My baby brother is now 19 and is enjoying his second semester at UL. My mom has been able to see us get married and have children of our own and she was there when her last child graduated high school.
My mom is amazing! She has raised 11 children strongly in the Catholic faith. She is feisty, stubborn, and full of life. She’s a mom that knows it all and will tell you so! She’s a fantastic cook–imagine cooking for a family of 11 children (some with spouses or significant others) and 7 grandchildren for every family event! I have been told that my mom and I are very much alike–she’s a perfectionist and is never happy about the results of anything she does and she cares about everything a little too much! It’s a trait that I don’t like to admit to having, but it’s also a little piece of her within me that I’m proud to have at the same time.
I speak for my siblings when I say that we love our mom more than words can say. We all went through the teenage years of wishing that my mom wasn’t so strict or that she would just stop nagging us. But as young adults, we all also went through the moment of thinking to ourselves, “We might really lose her.” I don’t take my mom for granted. I know that each day she is with us is a blessing. I am grateful to see her when we go home for Sunday lunches. I am grateful that she was by my side when I had my two children…and I didn’t know if that was possible 13 years ago when she received her diagnosis. And now that I am a mom myself, I appreciate my childhood and all of the struggles my parents went through to raise a house full of kids.
“Get Your Rear in Gear” to me means regular screenings and early detection–especially if you have a family history. And it means supporting all of those families affected by colon cancer by increasing awareness and sharing our stories. If our story convinces one person to schedule a screening, then I believe my mom will see her story as something “perfect.”
Our team was formed in honor of our mom, Chi Nguyen, who will be a 13 year survivor of colon cancer. 2009 was the first year that we participated in the race and it was also my mom’s 10th survival year.
Our team is made up of myself and my 10 siblings as well as family and friends. This will be our second year participating, and so far, we are estimating to have 25-30 people on our team. We always do a fundraising page summarizing our story and asking for support, participation, and donations. Last year, we had a team shirt with the logo, “In it to Nguyen It.” (Nguyen is pronounced “win”, a sort of play on the words) This year’s team shirt logo is “Run Like the Nguyen.” We’re excited about it and can’t wait to show it off on race day!
Colon cancer has had a large impact on my family and we felt that participating in this race is something small that we are able to do in order to support prevention and awareness. We are proud to be a part of this in any way that we can because my mom is our hero.
My family and I would like to thank Johnathan Duhon for bringing this race to Acadiana and the city of Lafayette. We are honored that he thought of our mom and our family as inspiration for starting this race. Go Team Nguyen!