Today I met with Dr Yen, Director of Palliative Care in Hanoi’s K2 Campus of the National Cancer Cancer Hospital. Dr Yen, a mother of two, works 7:30am-5pm seven days per week and has been working at K2 for the past 13 years. As well as working within the Hospital itself, she also travels to the outlying provinces to provide Oncology training for the doctors working there.

In her department, there are six wards of about 4-6 beds each. Outside, both patients and family sit fanning themselves in the sweltering August weather and even in the wards themselves, the fan only just takes the edge off the heat. Most of the patients here are from poor communities and cannot afford a bed, and many of the beds have two occupants. The facilities are basic, but each patient had at least on family member sitting with them, chatting or fanning them to keep them cool. Dr Yen explained that it is common for the patients to always be accompanied during their stay in the hospital and this family support makes the job of her team much easier. Dr Yen has spent time training in Singapore, and while the facilities were more advanced, and she made the point that the patients’ care was significantly better if the family was involved.

Over lunch, we discussed many things, including the closeness and caring for the family that is so central to Vietnamese culture. She made the point that, until recently, there were not nursing homes for the elderly in Vietnam, and even now, with the introduction of one or two in Ho Chi Minh city, it remains the norm for elderly relatives to live with their families and die in the comfort of their own home. From the short time that I have spent here in Hanoi with my host family, I have already been struck by how strong the family unit is and the respect shown by the children to their parents and grandparents-certainly something that is sadly lacking in Western culture.

Dr Yen showed me the copies of Touch, Caring and Cancer that Mishka had used in her workshops back in 2011. Back then, Mishka had secured funding to have the DVD translated into Vietnamese and the hospital was given 1000 copies to distribute to the patients who attended the caregiver workshops. I hope that together Dr Yen and I will be able to organise a workshop during my stay, but in the meantime I will be providing massage for the patients in her department and showing the staff and families some massage techniques from the program on a one-to-one basis.

I feel very lucky to have Dr Yen’s support. She is clearly hugely dedicated to her work and her patients’ care and comfort is her first priority. The fact that she is wholeheartedly embracing the inclusion of massage in her patients’ care makes my job so much easier, and I look forward to working with her over the next couple of weeks.