October 24, 2016 | by Jay Fernandez
A sudden breast cancer diagnosis will shake even the hardiest soul. But when Linh Quan received her news in Spring 2012, it was like being doubly kicked when she was already down.
She had just celebrated her 40th birthday and, like any woman who values her health, she scheduled a mammogram as a start to regular screenings, as recommended by doctors when hitting a milestone birthday. When she was subsequently told that she had HER2-positive Stage 2 breast cancer, she was understandably distraught. But her thoughts immediately turned to her father, who had been diagnosed with rectal cancer six months prior and was already in City of Hope’s care.
“I was devastated,” Quan said. “I was very sad because of my dad. We were fully trying to support him, and then at the same time it happened to me. So it was a big hit on our family. I felt the world was against me and that I was on a rollercoaster ride that just wouldn’t stop.”
Quan’s mother passed away when she was seven, when the family was still living in Hanoi, Vietnam. Her father committed himself to raising Quan and her two brothers. He moved the family United States when Quan was 11.
“He never wanted us to give up on anything in our lives,” Quan said of her dad. She knew that to him, this new health challenge was no different.
He encouraged me even though he was sick. He would always tell me, ‘We’re gonna do this together. We’re gonna fight it together. We’re gonna get out of it.’”
Soon after her diagnosis, Quan began intense chemotherapy under the care of oncologist Christina Yeon, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research at City of Hope | South Pasadena. Quan's brothers Andy and Hoong, her Aunt Chau (her father’s sister) and her husband Kenny rallied to be by her side for every doctor’s appointment and chemotherapy session.
“I had the best support,” said Quan, who would meditate and listen to music to find emotional balance throughout this difficult treatment period. “My family was always around. My aunt came every day after work, and she would sit with me until my husband got home from work and could visit me — not doing anything but just being there with me.”
Despite his own cancer battle, Quan’s dad managed to visit his daughter, as well to provide parental support and comfort.
“While I was doing chemo, he would come over all the time to talk to me,” said Quan. “I remember that morning before I went to my last day of chemo, he called me and said, ‘I’m very happy for you, and good luck.’ I think he knew then. My family knew that my dad was not going to make it, but they hid it from me so I could go through my last chemo without being sad that I was going to lose my dad. I think it’s amazing that my dad called knowing that he’s not going to live and that I am. It was hard. I’m his baby girl.”
Sadly, Quan's father passed away that August, but her loss had the counter-effect of bolstering her will to battle her own cancer. “He fought hard until the end,” Quan said. “With whatever little vocal strength he had left in him, he made me promise him that I would continue my fight with all my strength. He didn’t want me to feel despair because he lost his own battle. As I grieved the passing of my father, I never once lost hope or faith to beat this disease.”
A month after her father’s passing, City of Hope surgical oncologist I. Benjamin Paz, M.D., performed a double mastectomy on Quan and she spent another six months undergoing less intense follow-up chemotherapy. She is now cancer free.
“I lived on because I feel life is too short,” said Quan who’s now 44. “I fought every bit of it because every time I wanted to give up I thought of how my dad fought for his life, to be with us. Of course, I have my own family. I have a son that I want to be able to live to see graduate out of high school and college, marry and have kids, so I can be a grandma. So that’s what I fought for: my family.”
Quan, who lives in Temple City, California, with her husband and their 15-year-old son, works as an accountant for a drywall company. She now makes it a point to provide support, answer questions and describe her experience to anyone in her life that she hears has received a cancer diagnosis. “I’m very open,” she said. “Just last month, my goddad’s wife’s breast cancer returned, and she had to go get a mastectomy. So I took the day off, and I went to surgery with her and stayed with her, because I know how it feels. It feels very comforting when you get out of the surgery and someone is there with you.”
Quan is being recognized at the 20th annual Walk for Hope on Nov. 6. She has also been selected as one of the cancer survivors fortunate enough to ride on City of Hope’s official Rose Parade float on Jan. 2, 2017. “I’ve never been, so I’m very excited,” Quan said. “I feel very honored, and I hope to do whatever I can to make a difference. I tell myself that when I’m retired that’s where I’m going to go to volunteer, City of Hope.”
Quan’s urge to give back is a direct result of the specialized care — from doctors, nurses, volunteers and other patients — that she received while at City of Hope. “They are always so positive,” she said. “My surgeon was amazingly positive. He always made me feel like I was in good hands. Dr. Yeon, she’s amazing. Any time I said, ‘I don’t feel good,’ she always encouraged me: ‘You’re going to get through this. Any time you need me, you call me.’ And all the people at the chemo, I give them so much credit, because every time I came in there I felt like I was home — they kissed me, they rubbed my hands, they always said, ‘You’re doing good, keep it up.’ I feel like they’re my family in a lot of sense.”
Through loss and hardship, after being knocked down a few times, Quan did what we’d all hope to do: She found the fortitude and fight to get back up. Perhaps this is unsurprising from a woman whose name, lính, in Vietnamese means "soldier."
“I feel great now. I’m very happy,” Quan said. “I changed my habits a little, I take a lot of vitamins and herbal remedies. Of course, I’m not the same as I used to be. But for what I’ve been through, I think I did well. So I should not complain.” She chuckles at herself a moment, then adds, “I’m just happy that I’m up every day, and I’m still here. Let’s put it that way.”
Learn more about City of Hope's breast cancer treatments and research. Learn more about making an appointment or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online.