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Christine was diagnosed with a brain tumour and struggled with some relationships. She wants to share her experiences to help others


I was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour in 2013 at the age of 24. Since then it’s been a massive struggle to deal with the diagnosis of an incurable brain tumour and cancer too. I’ve faced so many, difficult challenges with the added trials of living with cancer as an ethnic minority Asian.

I was born here within a Western environment but also with the traditions and culture of the Chinese as both my parents are born and raised in Hong Kong.

Although English isn’t my parents’ first language, they know enough for everyday life communication, however usually they would talk to me in Cantonese and I would respond in English. There is certainly a communication barrier between my parents and I, and because of their limited knowledge in English it made my recovery journey more difficult than I expected. For example, my consultants and surgeons had to speak to my uncle and aunt, who are better at the language instead so they could translate it back in Chinese for my parents to understand. Also, when it came to decisions on treatments and further surgeries, I had to make them on my own which was uneasy for me because I now find it difficult to process information, this is one of the side effects from the tumour removal and radiotherapy.

In the typical Chinese culture, it is not ‘ideal’ to share any negative or unhappy personal experiences with others who are outside the family, it should be kept under wraps. There have been people (who don’t know about my experience) who have asked me why I have to walk with a walking stick or why I have frosted lens on one side of my glasses, rather than explaining the real reason to them my parents told me to keep it quiet and not say a word, as it is too shameful to be mentioned.  I have tried to ask why they feel the need to hide my condition and illness but they could never give me a straight answer.

I don’t feel like I can share my feelings with them when I’m sad and feeling low. At family gatherings I have to put on a brave face and pretend I’m happy. They all tend to think that because I look normal so I am normal again and that everything is fine. They don’t understand the importance of my mental and emotional health, these are certainly not an openly discussed topics in the Chinese culture and some genuinely don’t think it exists including my parents. Their simple advice would be “Don’t be sad.”

My parents often over worry and are over protective, they would rather have me stay at home than be out doing things, and they would also tell me that I can’t or shouldn’t do certain things (e.g. travel) because I’m now disabled and need help. The lack of encouragement has made it really difficult for me to believe in myself and be independent again, however they have helped me out so much physically to make my life easier. I know their concerns come from a good place and I understand their cultural background has made it difficult for them to understand my experience.

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