If Vivian Bui follows her chosen career path of becoming a pediatric oncologist, establishing empathy for her patients should not be a challenge. She knows exactly what cancer patients experience.
At 15, Bui has gone through five rounds of chemotherapy and 39 rounds of radiation to treat nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a cancer of the upper throat behind the nose. She began her battle with cancer a year after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and she has also been treated for plastic anemia, hypothyroidism and vitamin D deficiency.
When she first learned of her diabetes diagnosis, Bui says she experienced a certain amount of fear over not knowing what would come next. When she came back to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) to start treatment for her cancer, her fear was replaced by an entirely different feeling.
“I remember a nurse asking me if I was scared that I had cancer,” she recalls. “I said, ‘No, I’m not scared.’ Because if I walk down one hall, I see can see a 5-year-old battling cancer, and if I look down the other hall it’s a 17-year-old battling cancer. If both of them can do that with smiles on their faces, I can do that too, and just smile through the pain.”
Throughout her fight, Bui worked to cheer her fellow CHLA patients. Hospital administrators noticed her upbeat and battling spirit and recommended that she join the hospital’s Junior Ambassadors Club. As a patient speaker and fundraiser, she has helped raise more than $2,000 to support the hospital.
“Her appreciation for CHLA is clear to everyone who meets her,” says Ambassadors Program Director Michael Sampiano. “Her grace in the midst of her medical challenges gives us all hope.”
With her cancer in remission, Bui is on the drill team at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School, where she is a sophomore. She checks her blood glucose levels regularly and uses an insulin pump. Contact sports are restricted, since she bruises easily, but friends are getting accustomed to the idea that they can give her a hug without fear of breaking her.
After all, teenagers with Vivian Bui’s resiliency don’t break.
“A lot of people say, ‘What are French fries without ketchup or what’s an Oreo without milk?’” Bui says. “I like to say, ‘What’s cancer without a fight?’”