Let’s redefine “beating cancer”

Thuy Muoi
Thuy Muoi
Mar 8, 2019 · 4 min read

I grew up in a country where a small disease like tuberculous killed 3 members of my family. When I was in high school, HIV is the deadliest disease, and dozen of drug addicts in my city died because they shared a dose and innocent people died because they got HIV for random needles in small alleys.

In 1995, a 10-year-old me lost my closest childhood friend because of bone cancer. People told me that it’s because her parents got Agent Orange during the war.

In 2015, my cousin got lung cancer. Our family tried not to talk about it and pretended like it doesn’t exist. I visited her in the New Year, she lost some weight. I think she looks healthy, but I still see the sadness in her eyes.

In 2016, when I got my diagnosis, I’ve read the book “When Breath Becomes Air” — Paul Kalanithi had 22 months total after his diagnosis. I asked myself, “If I can suffer this pain in 22 more months, what’s the odds of people finding a cure for this disease?”

After my first meeting on Dr. Nieva, I wrote him an email,

I’ve read about the statistics of life expectancy of the stage 4 lung cancer, there are 4% of people with 5-year survival rate. When I was in school, I was at top 1–2% of the class. When I was at work, I was at the top 1% of my career. I will do my best to fight this battle. Please let me know if there is anything I can do better to improve my chance

When I was CEO of my companies, I had to make hundreds of decisions every day. Many of them, to be honest, I had no clues what would be the best. However, I’m the last decision maker when no one else can. On average, I made 80% wrong decisions, yet the 20% correct ones are the one that kept us going, and my head above the water. The chance of success for startups is 1%, and every morning, I woke up and put in 20 hours just to improve that chance to 2% then 3% — until the day I can accomplish what I’ve set out to do.

So, 4% of survival for 5-year, that’s plenty!

To understand this disease, I went to volunteer for a cancer research lab for 6-month straight. Twice a week, take 2-hour-bus ride to USC, and then 2-hour-bus ride to come back. There are people who work day and night in the lab to improve my chance of survival. What can I do to help them move faster so that I can survive?

When people around me tell me stuffs like “you can beat it” or “fighting” — 90% of them have no idea what it means. I, myself, used to think that “let’s kill this stupid disease” — but the most ruthless truth is: we can never remove all the cancer cells out of patients’ bodies. So, what is the meaning of “winning” or “losing” in this battle?

When someone dies because of cancer, does that mean they lost the battle? How’s death because of cancer different from heart-attacks or motorcycle accidents?

If death is the definition of lost, with or without cancer, everyone will lose someday anyway!

There are 50 million people who are living with cancer today around the world. Some are happier than others. I heard countless stories of how cancer bring people to suffer and sorrow, I also heard countless stories of cancer bring people joy and the real meaning of lives.

Photo by Sara Ma

For me, cancer brought me the entire new career path, meetings new friends, reconnect with old friends and families, and closures — and more important, cancer has taught me the meaning of love, forgive, and forget. I was incredibly lucky enough to never complain about Monday or a long day at work. If anything, I only complain about I don’t have enough time to work and get things done. I’m not afraid of death, I’m more afraid of being useless!

Deadlines mean “the latest time or date by which something should be completed”. I have been living with deadlines — 3 months at the time — for the past 3 years because that’s the length of time that my CT due.

I lived my life in an insanely fast track that sometimes I forget the battle even exists. There are people live to do the treatments and others who do the treatments to live. I’m simply the latter! I cannot tell it’s the best way to live with cancer. But I cannot live any differently!

One day, lung cancer will be cured as easy as tuberculous. But there are three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. Which one are you?

Thank you to Forbes Vietnam for choosing me to be the Top 50 Influential Women for the second time! It’s my honor to be on the list of the women who are making things happen and continue inspiring other women to choose happiness.

Photo by Forbes Vietnam

USC, March 7th, 2019


The journey of an immigrant, an entrepreneur, and a cancer…