|Making music: Volunteers and cancer patients sing together in a cultural exchange on Sunday. — VNS Photos Hoai Nam
A volunteer programme in Da Nang brings songs, art displays and shelves of books to cancer patients at the city's Oncology Hospital. Hoai Nam reports.
Nguyen Thi Dieu, 19, often reserves her leisure time after college to help cancer patients at Da Nang's Oncology Hospital as part of the "One Painting, Many Hopes" volunteer programme.
Dieu, from Quang Nam Province, studies at Duy Tan College in Da Nang and is one of many volunteers from local universities, businesses and the community.
She typically visits the hospital four days per week to provide cancer patients with books from a mobile library.
"I could have spent more time chatting on the Internet or on Facebook, but I found I had a more meaningful experience when I joined the volunteer programme at the hospital," Dieu said.
"My teammates and I use a push-cart to bring books to the patients in their beds. They (patients) can borrow books from our mobile library to read during their stay at the hospital," she said.
Most patients feel lonely when they are in the hospital following treatment, and books help them forget the pain and create a more enjoyable experience.
Ho Duong Dong, 33, the creator of the programme, said a group of 15 volunteers – all students – took part in regular activities at the hospital, including managing the mobile library, hosting cultural exchanges with patients, and singing to entertain patients.
"We, in collaboration with business associations and artists in the city, started the programme by organising painting and photo contests to select the best works on display at the hospital," Dong said, adding that more than 200 paintings and photos decorated the corridors of the 500-bed hospital.
"We come to help the patients at the hospital by spreading our message: Cancer is not a deadly disease. Volunteers do their best to ease the pain of terminal patients and encourage others to continue hoping for the best," Dong said.
Dong, who is a lecturer at Da Nang's Technology College, said the programme also hosted a musical exchange between volunteers and patients twice a month on a stage in the hospital lobby.
Phan Thi Lac, 67, from Lien Chieu District, who is bed-ridden and has breast cancer, favours books on Buddhism as they help ease her pains.
"It helps me kill the pain. I had undergone surgery and a long treatment at the hospital. Little books bring me big hope that I will be well again some day," Lac said.
Cao Thanh Doan, 47, from Quang Nam Province, suffers from tongue cancer and has received treatment with radiotherapy. He said he felt happy when the students came to sing and talk with the patients.
"Young students take my sadness away with their joyful chatter and songs. It's a very exciting moment during weekends when we just walk around the hospital or room. Some patients have to stay in bed due to transfusions," Doan said.
Nguyen Dang Hoa, 19, a volunteer from Da Nang, said books, paintings and postcards were donated by students from the city's colleges.
"We encourage our schoolmates to write postcards with best wishes and heartfelt messages to raise the patients' spirits and hope," Hoa explained.
"The major performance on the lobby stage in the hospital often lasts two hours, with participation from nearly 200 inpatients, most of whom are poor or middle class," he said.
Six-year-old Tran Quang Khang from mountainous Bac Tra My District in Quang Nam Province has been treated for blood cancer since early this year. He too joined the painting programme with the volunteers.
"I love painting. I want to be healthy soon, as I have to go to school next year," Khang said.
His father, Tran Van Thinh, 35, confided that his son would not attend school because he needed long-term chemotherapy to fight the disease.
|Mini exhibition: Paintings drawn by cancer patients are on display in a corridor of the central city's Oncology Hospital.
He said his family's savings had been reserved for his son's treatment.
Luong Thi Lan, 65, who has been diagnosed with liver cancer, said she just walked around the sick-room because of the severity of her illness.
"Books are easy for me. I prefer reading books on Buddhism, particularly Buddha's prayers. I feel peaceful in my mind and soul and forget the pain," she said.
Ho Duong Dong, the volunteer programme leader, said a painting contest would be held at the hospital with the participation of 20 cancer patients.
He said the paintings would be put up for auction, and the proceeds would be donated to help the poor and underprivileged patients at the hospital.
Doctor Trinh Luong Tran said psychotherapy somehow acts as a pain-killer.
"Patients are often anxious about the disease. They think cancer cannot be cured and that it's a death sentence. But their strong and optimistic spirit helps them bravely fight the disease," Tran said.
"Volunteers offer only a little help, but their actions bring a great deal of hope for all the patients. It encourages them (patients) to continue their treatment."
Deputy Chairwoman of Da Nang Association to Support Poor and Disadvantaged Women and Children, Nguyen Thi Van Lan, said donations had been used to provide free treatment and meals to poor patients.
The hospital also provides free meals and accommodation for the patients' relatives.
Lan said the association had received VND600 billion (US$28.6 million) from foreign and domestic donors since 2013.
According to the Viet Nam Cancer Association, some 150,000 cancer patients are diagnosed in the country annually, of which 75,000 die from their illness. The number of cancer patients diagnosed is expected to increase to 200,000 by 2020.
More donations and volunteer programmes are needed to ease the difficulties faced by patients and their relatives at the hospital.
Last month, Do Tuan Dung, 11, a cancer patient at the central city's Oncology Hospital, achieved his dream of becoming a traffic policeman when the city's Traffic Police helped him practise with a patrol and enforcement trial at the hospital.
The traffic police had presented the opportunity to the boy as a gift on his birthday during his stay at the hospital. — VNS