Health and wellness

How a Hong Kong mother’s tragic cancer story turned her into a fervent blood donor advocate

Her group raises awareness through children’s play dates and salutes her own mother’s brave battle and experience

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 November, 2017, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 November, 2017, 2:15pm

More than a year after her mother died of blood cancer, Yelly Chui Nga-lee still fondly remembers how they used to spend time together almost every day.

“She’d bring me to her workplace when I was a kid,” recalls Chui, now 34. “I basically followed her everywhere.”

And even after Chui became a mother herself, she still followed her around.

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In early 2015, Chui’s mother was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukaemia, a type of cancer that is characterised by an increase in white blood cells. The condition was discovered when her mother found her mouth bleeding heavily when brushing her teeth one day.

The Hong Kong Blood Cancer Foundation estimates there are more than 1,000 new blood cancer cases in the city each year. Blood cancer is the tenth most common cancer locally.

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The disease forced Chui to quit her job at an American company in Hong Kong to take care of her mother, who needed to receive blood transfusions whenever she felt tired, which was almost daily.

And Chui was always there. The eldest daughter in the family, she accompanied her mother to the hospital for the transfusions, doing so even after she became pregnant.

“It was like a bolt out of the blue,” Chui says of the moment her family learned of her mother’s diagnosis.

Chui describes her mother as a kind-hearted woman undeserving of all the suffering she endured.

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“She’d always been an inspiring figure to me. When she was running her own jewellery business, she didn’t take a single day off because she thought the customers, most of whom became her friends, would be disappointed if they came and realised the shop was closed.

“She was always caring, thoughtful and nice to other people.”

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In July last year, after more than a year battling the disease, Chui’s mother died. She was 59.

Chui holds back her tears when describing her “super mother” as a woman who raised four children and worked outside the home at the same time.

Blood donation doesn’t only save one person’s life. It saves the whole family
Yelly Chui, blood donor advocate

Yet horrific as it was to witness her mother’s decline and death, the experience turned Chui into a fervent advocate for blood donation.

On July 7 – the one-year anniversary of her mother's death – Chui set up a mothers’ club named Little Bee Playdate. The group offers more than social gatherings as it educates children and parents about blood donations through play dates.

The club also commemorates Chui’s mother.

Now with an 11-month-old daughter, Chui says her mother would have died sooner had it not been for blood donors.

“Before my mother suffered from blood cancer, I didn’t know much about blood and the donation process.

“But having seen my mother benefiting from many bags of blood, I finally realised why blood donation is so important to the community. Blood donation doesn’t only save one person’s life. It saves the whole family.”

Yet the city has seen challenges in Chui’s cause. The Hong Kong Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service issued several appeals for blood donors this year after its inventory saw a serious shortage.

Figures from the service showed the number of blood bags collected from donation plunged by 10 per cent between June and August this year, compared with the same period last year.

Chui believes some Hongkongers misperceive blood donation as bad for their health. She wants to rectify that view by explaining basic blood knowledge to children first.

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Apart from running the club, the new mother helps other blood cancer patients raise funds for their medical treatments.

“I want to be like my mum,” she says. “She was a real super mum.”