Janice and Fantine, both SMU President’s Scholar majoring in biological sciences, spent summer 2012 in Vietnam studying whether Vietnamese culture influenced the health decisions of breast cancer patients there.
Different countries have varying beliefs about health that may influence the treatment decisions of breast cancer patients. More importantly, we hoped to explore this topic through the patient perspective. We believed that culture as well as accessibility to treatment may impact the women’s perception of their quality of life after being diagnosed with cancer.
Salman Rushdie, a British Indian novelist, once wrote, “Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems – but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems incredible.” As we entered the double gates into the hospital, our formulated background research and hypothesis made the reality of what we would expect in Vietnam seem plausible.
We believed that culture did influence Vietnamese breast cancer patients, and that perhaps their use of Oriental medicine was deterring the women from early diagnosis of breast cancer. Our preliminary research had detailed a logical network of potential factors and reasons for the outcomes we expected. From the weeks of reviewing journal articles, planning hospital visits and physician interviews, and orchestrating the trip as a whole, we believed we were mentally and physically prepared for Vietnam. The 24-hour flight only added to our momentum as we propelled into our first destination.
However, from the very moment we passed the hospital’s double gates, the Vietnamese culture and environment challenged our foreign paradigms in ways that we did not anticipate. Their reality was even more incredible than we had imagined.