What I Learned: 4 lessons from leukemia survivor Alex Tung

March 14, 2016 | by City of Hope

When Alex Tung, the only child of a Chinese immigrant single parent, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at age 37, the hardest thing for him to do was tell his mom. A healthy, happy and active native of Southern California, Alex was determined to beat cancer, not just for himself but also for her.

His determination would serve him well: When the first hospital Alex went to could not offer him the treatments he needed for survival, which included a bone marrow transplant, he refused to give up. Fortunately, he was soon referred to City of Hope, which has one of the largest and most successful bone marrow and blood stem cell transplantation centers in the world.    

Alex waited six months for a match, but because of his Chinese heritage, the search proved more difficult than expected. Although 12 million people have signed up with the registry, only 7 percent are of Asian descent.

Ultimately, with the help of his doctor, Elizabeth Budde, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, Alex signed up for a clinical trial that used umbilical cord blood for transplantation instead of bone marrow. Cord blood has been found to provide the stem cells necessary for transplant when a blood cancer patient doesn't have an ideal stem cell match.

Alex is now in remission and his story is the inspiration behind City of Hope’s new Chinese brand campaign. He is a living testament to how City of Hope’s family of doctors and scientists work together to beat cancer and save lives through personalized treatments and medical advancements. 

Below, Alex shares four lessons he learned during his cancer journey.

1. Find a center that specializes in cancer research and treatment.

Not all hospitals or treatment centers will have the treatment options you may need. I needed a bone marrow transplant for my rare form of leukemia but the first hospital I went to didn’t perform them. It’s important to look for centers that specialize in both cancer research and treatment, like City of Hope.

2. Consider additional treatment options.

Traditional cancer treatment options may not always be successful or feasible. Your doctor may need to find alternative treatment options. I kept waiting for a bone marrow match but there wasn’t one. Thankfully, a revolutionary clinical trial was available. It was because of City of Hope’s innovative treatments that I survived.

3. Rely on your support system.

Having cancer and going through treatment can completely turn your life around, so it’s important to have a strong support system to rely on. One of my favorite things to do before I was diagnosed with cancer was go surfing. I used to surf almost every day. When I was receiving treatment at City of Hope, I couldn’t be as active or even go outside on most days. Having my mom be with me every step of the way really helped me get through this challenging time.

4. Make sure you are comfortable in your treatment environment.

You will be spending a lot of time at your treatment center and making a lot of important decisions there, so you should be comfortable where you’re getting treated. I was especially grateful that City of Hope had top-notch facilities that felt more like a campus than a hospital, which relaxed me and made me feel optimistic in my treatment. City of Hope also had in-language doctors and staff that helped my mom understand my condition so we could make informed decisions together.

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If you are looking for a second opinion about your diagnosis or consultation about your treatment, request an  request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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