Spirit of Hong Kong 2014

Spirit of Hong Kong

Inspiring pupils while fighting acute leukaemia

Cathy Fung used her experiences to teach the importance of a positive outlook on life

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 August, 2014, 5:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 May, 2015, 12:37pm

Every time the seasons changed, teacher Cathy Fung Ka-wai would get a cold. Then, in the autumn of 2011, she couldn't shake it off. She visited a doctor, who said it was a thyroid infection. She sought a second opinion with an ear, nose and throat specialist who saw that she had abnormal capillaries around her epiglottis. He initially thought whatever it was could be fought off with antibiotics, but asked her to take a blood test.

"I got the results on December 14, 2011," recalls Fung, who works three days a week as a teacher and librarian at the Carmel Alison Lam Foundation Secondary School in Kwai Chung. "When the doctor told me to do the blood test I already had a premonition that something was really wrong."

She was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. "When the phone call came I was terrified. I went to get the results with the pastor from my local church. The first thing that came into my mind was that I was going to die. Because the disease was very acute I didn't have much time to respond to it before going into surgery.

"I remember being wheeled into an isolation ward and the only other patient in the room was really pale and had lost her hair. They put a tube into my heart for the chemotherapy. I spent the first three days crying. I was in a state of shock. Before receiving the bone marrow from a sister who was a match, I had six intense periods of chemotherapy. It felt like sodium hydroxide was being poured down my throat. My mouth was so blistered I couldn't eat anything."

Fung has three siblings and there is usually a one in four chance that you can find a match from sisters or brothers.

"My sister flew in from Texas to give me the bone marrow and I got my transplant in June 2012. A year after my bone marrow transplant it was still my sister's bone marrow that was making 100 per cent of the white blood cells, but that is starting to change."

The chance of this type of cancer returning is quite high but so far Fung, 37, has had no recurrences. The Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union has nominated Fung for the Spirit of Hong Kong Awards 2014 in the "Overcoming Personal Challenges to Achieve" category; not simply because she has battled disease, it said, but because of what she has taught her students about having a positive outlook on life and the way she encouraged them. She continued teaching when she could throughout her treatment.

Fung wrote a blog for the duration of her treatment, to share her experiences about the disease with the public.

"It was the perfect way to express myself as I love words," she says. Fung says she was helped greatly by knowing that the students and staff members at the school and churches in other parts of Hong Kong were praying for her well-being. She has shared her own experiences with students and others.

"I like jobs that involve interpersonal relations; teaching is an important role because you affect your students directly. It's really important to encourage students."