What I learned: 7 questions for leukemia patient Alex Tung

November 26, 2015 | by Denise Heady

Five City of Hope patients who have journeyed through cancer will welcome 2016 atop City of Hope's Tournament of Roses Parade float on Jan. 1. The float’s theme, "The Miracle of Science with Soul," adds a deeper dimension to the parade theme of "Find your Adventure."

Alex Tung, an avid surfer and resident of Cerritos, California, will not only mark the New Year on the Rose Parade float, but will also celebrate his new “first birthday.” It was on Jan. 28, 2015, that Alex received a lifesaving umbilical cord stem cell transplant at City of Hope to help fight his leukemia.

When Alex’s initial, six-month search for a bone marrow donor proved unsuccessful, he enrolled in a clinical trial at City of Hope that used stem cells from umbilical cord blood, instead of from bone marrow. The transplant was successful and Alex is now counting down the days until he can jump back into ocean and start surfing again.

Here, Alex answers questions about his diagnosis and treatment at City of Hope.

What was your most memorable encounter during treatment?

My most memorable encounter during treatment was the day of my double umbilical cord stem cell transplant. I was not sure what to expect at the time. I just knew my bloodstream was about to be infused with two other human beings’ stem cells, and these stem cells were going to live inside of me for the rest of my life and keep me alive. It was the blood that would give me a second chance at life. My new blood, my new life. What a miracle.

What would you tell other patients who have been recently diagnosed?

I wish there was a nicer way to put it, but I would say brace yourself for the battle of your life. It’s a tough journey, but you can most definitely get through it. You have to remind yourself that people get diagnosed with leukemia every day and people beat leukemia every day.

Fighting cancer is as much a state of mind as it is your physical body fighting. Stay positive, never give up, have faith and believe.

What is one piece of practical advice you would give patients?

Being stuck in a hospital room for weeks and months at a time is extremely tough. It was important for me to decorate my room with posters and pictures of things that I love. All four walls of my hospital room were filled with images of tropical beaches, get well cards and basically anything that visually cheered me up every day.  

I also put up a lot of blank white poster boards on my walls so all my visitors could write me a message before they left. All those days stuck in the hospital bed, it was really encouraging to see all the beautiful images and wonderful message from everyone.

Which family member or loved one did you rely on most – and how did he or she help?

My primary caregiver was my dear mother, and I relied on her the most. The strongest, bravest, most loving, most supportive, most encouraging and most positive mother in the world. I feel so bad for all that I had to put her through, but I feel so blessed to have had her by my side every step of the way. I can honestly say that if it wasn't for my mom’s love, care and support, I don't know if I would have made it. Thank you, Mom. I love you and I owe you big time.   

What could a family member or loved one do to help a patient that they might not think of?

I think the most important thing a family member or loved one can do is to remember to keep all negative attitudes, emotions and feelings outside of the hospital room. Seeing a family member or a loved one sick in bed, feeling helpless, and watching other people (doctors and nurses) sticking needles and doing stuff to them, could cause a family member or loved one to inadvertently lose their cool, lose their temper or get emotional themselves.

Remember to be conscious of how you’re feeling. Your emotions can affect the patient. No matter how difficult it may be for you, remember it is far more difficult and emotional for the patient to maintain a sense of peace, positivity and calmness.

The hospital room should be a sanctuary of peace and harmony. This is the best environment for the patient to have while in the hospital.    

Which person at City of Hope had the biggest impact – and how did he/she help?

If I had to choose just one person, then I would have to say my amazing doctor, Elizabeth Budde. I am forever grateful for Dr. Budde, her team and everyone at City of Hope for saving my life.

How do you continue to "find your adventure" after your journey with cancer?

I’ve always considered myself to be an adventurous person. Before I got diagnosed with cancer, I was super-active and surfed almost every day. I was extremely passionate about surfing and excited about my life. I was literally in the best shape of my life, both mentally and physically, when I got diagnosed. To have something I loved doing so much instantly taken away from me was very difficult to cope with. It was as if someone took away my one true passion, my one true love, my motivation for life.

But in a way this was a good thing. Even though it has been about a year-and-a-half since I’ve been out of the water, I haven't lost my desire to surf. I now have this burning drive to get healthy, to get back in shape, gain my weight back, build my muscles back up and to get back in the water.  


For more information about City of Hope's float, visit the City of Hope Rose Parade site.

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

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