|Han Yu-kyung, author of "The Cancer Center Graduate," poses at The Korea Times newsroom in Seoul last Thursday. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
Author shares cancer treatment experiences for those fighting cancer alone
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Like many other cancer patients, Han Yu-kyung, author of "The Cancer Center Graduate" published by Chamomile Press, kept asking this question after she was diagnosed with cancer last year at a university hospital in Seoul.
Her book shares the emotional rollercoaster she had gone through after receiving what felt like a death sentence and how she overcame it, elaborating her experience of treatment for other cancer patients.
Han, now 29, had one of the worst forms of stage-four tongue cancer, according to her doctor, and had to undergo surgery to remove half of her tongue.
She was shocked and in disbelief, trying hard to figure out what had gone wrong with her.
She didn't smoke. She's not a heavy drinker. She has no family history of the disease: none of her family members had tongue cancer. What especially saddened her was she was only 28 at that time.
She was confused and angry.
"I kept asking why me? Why did it have to be me?" she said during a recent interview with The Korea Times. "I was frustrated because even though the surgery turned out to be successful, there was still a chance that I could end up being unable to speak."
Han said she imagined spending the rest of her life being taken care of by other family members or paid caretakers.
Devastated, she even thought about committing suicide.
"For me, having cancer meant the end of my career because my job had required me to talk a lot," she said.
Han had been working with a marketing agency and at the same time attending graduate school part-time majoring in international affairs at Korea University. Her career goal was working with an international institution dealing with cultural heritage and artifacts.
Her plans for the future were falling apart.
She knew she had no choice. Following her doctor's advice, she underwent surgery and radiation therapy and that painful medical journey came to an end last year.
She is now recovering, practicing speaking under a coach at a private institute.
She can make herself understood, although her pronunciation is not articulate. But like other cancer survivors, she's still wary of the spread of cancer cells to other parts of her body.
The dreadful experience, however, has taught her a valuable lesson: Like her, other cancer patients live in fear and she can help them out.
She said she saw many patients fighting cancer without support from their family members.
"One of the patients I met at the cancer center was a housewife. She was suffering from uterine cancer and had undergone surgery. No family members were there because she didn't let her family, including her husband, know about her medical condition. She said having cancer is shameful," she said. "Many cancer patients were unwilling to speak openly about their condition and they fight the deadly disease alone."
From August this year, she wrote a manuscript based on journals she had kept since she was diagnosed with cancer. Her book "The Cancer Center Graduate" came out in October.
It tells the story of then the promising 28-year-old woman whose life all of a sudden was thrown into chaos after a cancer diagnosis. Her fear, anger, anxiousness and desperation are described in great detail. The book depicts a rite of passage all cancer patients undergo.
The author describes grieving family members and the emotional rollercoaster she experienced. The author also mentioned the factors that distress cancer patients further. One of them was unkind, emotionless doctors.
Han said her doctor didn't provide much information about what she was going to go through in advance, making her anxious about her future.
She kept asking several questions to her doctor. But he didn't answer fully, revealing his discomfort.
"So what's your problem?" the straightforward doctor asked back to her. "All the questions you are asking now are about small minor things. And yes, the area to be removed from your tongue is bigger than that of others. Try to think positively though. You need to look beyond the surgery and try to focus on the bigger gain, rather than paying too much attention to the small trivial things. Got it?"
Frustrated, Han went to the otolaryngologist near her home who recommended she go to a university hospital for a thorough medical check up to confirm if she had cancer.
Unlike the university professor, he was patient and listened to her. The kind doctor helped her feel easy.
"I decided to share my story because there are many cancer patients who are fighting alone without supportive family members," she said. "I want to tell them don't be scared. You are not alone."