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City Weekend

Sweet dreams come true for Hong Kong teenager who beat cancer

After two years of leukaemia treatment, Yuen Ka-mei is preparing for a dream trip to France and the chance to hone her pastry chef skills

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 April, 2017, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 April, 2017, 12:27pm

A Hong Kong teenager who has overcome leukaemia is set to realise her dream of attending world-renowned cooking school Le Cordon Bleu.

Yuen Ka-mei, 17, will travel to France in May to learn from the school’s chefs after being selected for the opportunity by the Hong Kong branch of international charity Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The schoolgirl, who lives with her family in Ting Kok Tsuen near Tai Po, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia when she was 16.

She finished her treatment for the cancer at the end of 2016 but had to undergo further surgery after developing a bone deteriorating condition, avascular necrosis.

Ka-mei said she remained positive despite her ordeal, but admitted it was “very hard” when she was first diagnosed.

“I was so sad and I felt my world was coming to an end. I would describe it like the cold war; I was the US and leukaemia was the Soviet Union. But I overcame it eventually. It was two years of treatment and I had to take time off school; it was so boring. I was just at home or in hospital.”

The young pastry chef, who taught herself to bake aged 13, said she found cooking therapeutic in between her chemotherapy treatment sessions at Queen Mary Hospital.

She said her friends and teachers at Carmel Pak Yu secondary school were supportive throughout her illness, sending her cards and video messages. But it was her family who gave her the most strength.

“For my family, it completely broke their heart,” she said. “Parents always regard children as more important than themselves, so my parents would always stay with me in hospital. It made me feel so warm – it was very important to me. They always encouraged me.”

Ka-mei enjoys cooking at home for her mother and sister, and particularly likes making macaroons, tiramisu, puffs and tarts.

Sweet things make me happy and I wanted to share this happiness with my family
Yuen Ka-mei

“It is very gratifying to see others enjoying my dishes. When I first started baking, I just searched recipes on the internet. My main inspiration was that I liked eating dessert. Sweet things make me happy and I wanted to share this happiness with my family.”

Ka-mei will spend two weeks at a Le Cordon Bleu school in France, accompanied by her 28-year-old sister. She says she will also have a few days to explore the country, including Paris, on her first trip to Europe.

“I think Europe is a beautiful place. I really want to go there – I want to visit the Eiffel Tower because I love history as well.

“I wish I could be there now. This opportunity was my motivation and strength to get through the surgery and treatment of avascular necrosis!”

Hong Kong Tens tournament teams up with Make-A-Wish to help sick kids

She said she was also looking forward to honing her skills with professionals.

“I want to learn the traditional cooking skills. Many dessert chefs come from France – most of the famous ones have started there.”

When Ka-mei finally finished her chemotherapy treatment, she said she most relished being able to enjoy ice cream again, which she was banned from eating, along with seafood and cheese, because of the potentially harmful bacteria.

She still has some pain in her hands but managed to complete her Diploma of Secondary Education exams this year. Her ambition is to become a kindergarten teacher if her avascular necrosis does not inhibit her.

“I don’t think I could be a chef full-time because you have to stand up a lot, so I prefer to keep baking as a hobby,” she said. “But I have recovered now, and I don’t have to take any medicine any more, so I hope I can become a kindergarten teacher or a primary school teacher one day.”

Make-A-Wish Hong Kong aims to grant wishes of children aged three to 17 who have life-threatening medical conditions to “enrich the human experience with hope”. The charity celebrated “wish month” in April.

For more information visit makeawish.org.hk