PEOPLE [AMC Real Story] A Mother and a Cancer Patient 2024.05.02


“I feel something in my breast,” Yumi continued speaking to the doctor, “But it cannot be cancer!” Three of her children came to her mind. ‘Even I need my mother’s help at forty, so my seven-year-old youngest needs to have me for at least 10 years…’ But the cancer had already taken hold in her body. She could not stand the thought of dismantling the walls she had built for her kids herself. With the determination to resume her role as a mother, she underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation at Asan Medical Center.


Submitting to What Has Already Happened

Just when she thought she was close to recovery in 2012, just over five years after breast cancer surgery, she continued to feel dizzy and started coughing. She went to a hospital nearby because her nosebleeds would not stop, and she was told that there might be a problem with her blood. She made an appointment at Asan Medical Center, but her condition worsened to the point that she could not walk without support. The diagnosis she received after visiting the emergency room was leukemia. Yumi was left speechless, having to tell her children about their mother’s illness again. In the days of hesitation, she felt her eldest son was avoiding her eyes. Her son’s inexplicable behavior bothered her more than the fact that she had to confess. She had to talk with him somehow. She called him over and said, “You know, the doctor said I have leukemia…” Before she could finish, tears welled up in her son’s eyes. ‘He knew it!’ It was Yumi who was taken aback. “Not everyone dies from leukemia like people say on TV. I have got this. You’ll see!” As she tried to comfort her son, she promised herself over and over not to let him go through something like this again.


During six months of hospitalization after the bone marrow transplant, she made many friends in the hospital ward. They shared a special bond of life and death. One day, a patient was scheduled to undergo a bone marrow transplant the next day. She confessed her frustration about having to extract bone marrow from her elementary school-aged son’s neck. Yumi comforted her, saying, “Later, your son’s going to be proud that he saved his mother.” “I hope so! See you after the surgery, then.” That was the last conversation they had, and Yumi had not heard from her since then. Yumi later learned that she died without receiving the transplant due to acute pneumonia. ‘What about the son she cherished so much…?’ The overwhelming happiness of being a mother became an unbearable burden at some point. Yumi could not cry even at the devastating news. The doctor had told her that she would never be able to shed a tear in her life because of the host reaction to her eyes after the transplantation. Her unexpressed grief remained in her heart.


Sometimes, It Is Just Too Hard to Bear

Yumi returned home safely to Sokcho. In 2015, gradually erasing the signs of illness, a small piece of meat got stuck in her throat while eating. She could not even swallow water. Without knowing why, she went to the hospital alone. This time, it was esophageal cancer. Even the consulting nurse looked pitiful. Thinking it might be the end for real, she called her husband, “You should have been a little nicer to me. It would have been nice if we could have lived happier…”


She met Professor Sook Ryun Park of the Division of Oncology. Upon hearing that the cancer was in a bad location, Yumi became anxious. She would eat so-called healthy foods, which worsened her liver condition and caused treatment delays. ‘I have been doing so well until now, and what a foolish thing have I done! I should pull myself together and listen carefully to the doctor!’ Yumi was a patient with many restrictive conditions, but efforts were made to reduce the size of the tumor as much as possible through chemotherapy and radiation at GangNeung Asan Hospital. Fortunately, her condition improved, so she could return to Seoul and discuss surgery. The surgical medical team told her that she would not be able to speak after removing her esophagus and airway. Although Yumi had learned about the surgery in advance and prepared herself mentally, she could not readily say ‘yes’ to undergoing the surgery. “You won’t be able to endure the surgery results with this level of determination.” The medical team flatly sent back Yumi, who was hesitating, to Oncology.


Taking Slow Steps, One Step at a Time

“Have you set a day for the surgery?” asked Professor Park. Yumi’s voice trembled as she confessed, “Professor, I no longer trust my body. I would consider the surgery if there were a guarantee that I wouldn't develop cancer again, but I fear I couldn't endure it if something were to go wrong." Acknowledging that the situation was challenging, Professor Park suggested taking things slowly. “I reckon you will feel relieved after your patient goes through the surgery, but thank you for understanding my feelings,” said Yumi. From then on, Professor Park sensitively adjusted the chemotherapy dosage and eased Yumi’s burden by saying she could take a break if the treatment felt overwhelming. Knowing that she was getting the best possible treatment gave her the strength to believe, ‘The chemotherapy is working hard to kill cancer cells.’


Yumi was a celebrity everywhere she went in the hospital. Patients in the ward who heard about her history of breast cancer, leukemia, and esophageal cancer all gathered themselves, saying, “My case is not serious at all.” Nurses she had met before greeted her warmly here and there. When she walked out of the clean room, she was applauded by the medical staff, patients, and their caregivers, who said, “You did well.”


Way Back Home

It was 2018. “Let’s stop the chemotherapy!” said Professor Park, and Yumi was worried. ‘What if some hidden cancer cells show up?’ However, 3-month interval follow-ups gradually extended to 6 months, and sometimes she felt well enough to forget she was a cancer patient. Having seen her for many years, Professor Park would ask her for timely updates about her children’s enrollment in school, graduation, and military discharge. “Do you remember all that?” Surprised, Yumi would excitedly share the news every time. It was a conversation that reminded her of where she should be, even though she wasn’t always sure of a cure. 8 years have passed without surgery. Yumi is once again safely returning home today to where her grown children are.