Once at the top of her class, my friend was struck down by terminal illness. This is the true story of her incredible recovery.

August 22, 2017 12:46 pm Last Updated: October 31, 2017 11:26 am

By Tue Chan

This is the remarkable story of my childhood friend Nguyet and her transformation from  a terminally ill child who lived in constant fear of death to a vibrant young woman, glowing with life.

The first time I saw Nguyet suffer a seizure, it was like a catastrophe had fallen from the sky and knocked her to the ground. We were barely 18 and in our final year of high school in Vietnam, brimming with excitement about the future.

Nguyet was one of the smartest in our class, always serving as the class monitor for all grades at the school. That winter, the whole class was busy preparing for the graduation exams and university applications, and the atmosphere seemed to be buzzing with nervous energy. The most relaxing moments for us at that time was escaping to the balcony on the third floor of the school during our breaks to watch the leaves fall.

One day, while standing on the balcony with everyone during the break, Nguyet suddenly clasped her arm and ran toward the classroom calling for help.

Suddenly she collapsed on the floor, and began to convulse violently before falling unconscious.

The adults quickly called the ambulance, and we barely had time to react. After the shock wore off, we all trembled at the memory of her lifeless body being taken away.

After that, Nguyet was on a long-term leave from school. Although nobody said it out loud, we knew there wasn’t much hope for her return.

In the beginning, it was very hard for us to accept the absence of our kind and bright friend.

It was difficult to reconcile our feelings of indomitable youth with the scene we had witnessed. We were all so young and full of dreams, yet were now forced to face the truth of mortality. Nguyet hadn’t even had the chance to finish her university application, and would not graduate from high school; her dreams were over before they had even begun.

Six Years of Struggle

Visiting Nguyet in the hospital, I learned of her multiple illnesses: a massive brain tumor coupled with a rare heart deformity of the left ventricle that was extremely risky to operate on. Her now-regular convulsions were a result of the tumor putting pressure on the nerves in her brain. Nguyet’s brain tumor was congenital; it had lurked there since she was born, developing gradually over the years. That’s why I occasionally saw her complain of headaches, dizziness, and numb hands. Sometimes, I saw Nguyen endure silently because she did not want us to worry or pity her.

Despite the bleak circumstances, Nguyet held out hope that her diseases could be cured and she could go back to school with her friends. Unfortunately, her hopes disappeared when she heard the diagnosis from her doctor. He told her that the surgery was so risky that none of the doctors dared to do it—the risk of death or becoming vegetative was too high and too dangerous.

Nguyet later told me she could not stop her tears while the doctor explained her diagnosis, because the sudden weight of the hopelessness was unfathomable.

Even the top specialists agreed with the doctor’s diagnosis: All she could do is go home, stay in bed, and take pills to try and ward off the convulsions, which would most likely happen anyway.

When she got home, she entered a kind of spiritual crisis. The worst part was the fear. She was afraid of everything, especially the seizures. So she didn’t dare to do anything and never left the house, not even to go in the backyard. One of her parents always had to be nearby, in case she began to convulse.

When she had a seizure she would enter a state of complete panic.

Her parents would quickly shove a towel in her mouth to stop her from biting her tongue. During the convulsions, she said the first few minutes felt like she was dying and completely helpless. Then she would lose consciousness for a few hours, and when she woke up, she always felt disappointed to be still alive. After a seizure, her whole body would be sore, and she would have to sleep for a long time.

Gradually, I watched Nguyet degenerate from a young, confident, energetic person to a sort of depressed and fearful elderly child who didn’t have anything left to live for.

Nguyet at the peak of her illness at home in Vietnam. (Dang Thi Nguyet)

Attempts to Cure Illness

Over the years, Nguyet travelled to many places with her parents to try and find a cure.

When doctors of Western medicine could not cure her, she went to see doctors of Chinese medicine. At each place, they had to stay for a few months. She tried many methods, such as massage, acupressure, acupuncture, and all kinds of Chinese medicine.

Even though she was not religious before, Nguyet’s mother began to pray every day. In the end, nothing worked.

Because Nguyet had to take anti-convulsants every day, she became addicted to drugs and panicked whenever she ran out of them. Every time she received her prescription for the anti-convulsants, they automatically came with a vial of sleeping pills. Nguyet started to save these sleeping pills while fantasizing about suicide.

The only thing that stopped her was fear and guilt—fear that her parents would not be able to withstand the shock. She could not bear the thought of causing them even more suffering. Despite their meager income as farmers, they used their savings to seek out numerous treatments that were far beyond what they could afford. Her feeling of indebtedness was overwhelming.

Then in 2014, the greatest sadness fell on Nguyet’s small family. Her father had a sudden stroke and died, leaving her mother to shoulder Nguyet’s care and financial responsibilities for the household. The full extent of the pain and loss that Nguyet and her family had suffered was too great.

A Buoy in the Ocean

Fighting against the disease for so many years left Nguyet permanently exhausted. She often felt powerless and could only release her anguish and depression by sobbing. She couldn’t understand why she must suffer so much, and why the gods would not let her die.

In her most depressed state, Nguyet felt like her head was about to explode.

But one day, a thought of hope emerged:

She had heard that an elderly woman who lived nearby, named Ms. Tiep, had discovered a special practice that could heal many diseases, and it was free of charge.

Nguyet went to Ms. Tiep’s house and hid behind the gate. She saw people doing slow-moving exercises inside. The music accompanying their movements was so melodious and soothing, it felt as if a light cloud of mist had washed over her, soothing her wounded spirit.

A few days later, she gathered up the courage to go to Ms. Tiep and ask her about her method. Ms. Tiep gave her some information about a meditation practice called Falun Gong, and warmly invited her to learn more about it online and then return so that they could do the practice together.

The online stories about Falun Gong amazed Nguyet, making her more determined to learn the practice. A few days later, she was excited to follow Ms. Tiep to the practice site, where many people were learning Falun Gong, taught by volunteer practitioners. Nguyet borrowed a book called “Zhuan Falun,” which detailed the practice and its principles. She stayed up late to read.

Normally exhausted in the mornings, the next day she felt wonderful.

Nguyet practicing Falun Dafa meditation. (Dang Thi Nguyet)

Changes After Practicing Falun Gong

From then on, Nguyet found new hope. She went to the practice site every day and read “Zhuan Falun” with the other practitioners. Nguyet read and reread the book many times, and a new horizon and a new meaning revealed themselves each time she finished reading. She became inspired to overcome her pain, depression, and hopelessness.

In the first few days of reading “Zhuan Falun,” Nguyet’s body had a very severe reaction, with headaches, dizziness, and convulsions.

In the first three months, she often felt nausea, and sometimes even vomited blood. But she understood from “Zhuan Falun” that it is normal for the body to go through a period of adjustment and cleansing at first. Thus, Nguyet was not worried. Gradually, every day, Nguyet’s body and mind became more and more comfortable and refreshed.

Nguyet also noticed improvement in her character and her ability to know when she had done something wrong. She told me this story: One day her mother came home very late from a hard day working on the farm. She was very tired and hungry, but Nguyet was not at home and had not prepared any food for her mother. When Nguyet got home, her mother criticized her severely for not helping with the housework.

Instead of kindly and patiently explaining that she had been helping her sister take care of her children, Nguyet became irritated and yelled back, insulting her mother. She stormed off and could not sleep all night long because of the argument.

Nguyet felt very tired when she woke up. Her head felt dizzy and her right arm hurt. Suddenly, she heard her mother’s voice, and tears came to her eyes. She realized that since she was a Falun Gong practitioner, she needed to cultivate the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, yet her behavior toward her mother was far below this standard.

She knew it was time for her to let go of her complaining mind and angry heart.

She also remembered that Falun Gong teaches people to think of how their actions will affect others before doing anything. This made Nguyet think of how her mother had endured so much hardship that day, and every day. She always had to wake up early, work late, and scrimp and save her money in order to provide for Nyuget. Moreover, she spent many years and countless sleepless nights taking care of Nguyet when she was ill. Nyuget realized that her anger had made her cruel, and selfish.

After seeing these bad thoughts, Nyuget was determined to change. At that moment, her body felt lighter and her heart unburdened. That experience helped her learn more about how to be a good person according to truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Cultivation is not difficult, Nyuget says. It is only difficult when you cannot discard your hatred or negative thinking. The difficulty depends on whether or not you are willing to be unselfish, forgiving, and tolerant in your relationships with others.


(L) Nguyet reading “Zhuan Falun.” (Dang Thi Nguyet)
Nguyet folding lotus flowers to give to others. (Dang Thi Nguyet)

Health & Happiness: A Whole New World

Today, Nguyet is completely free of illnesses; she has broken out of the bondage of sickness, pain, and fear buried deep down.

Nguyet used to be afraid to walk by herself even for a short distance. Now she walks everywhere confidently and can ride a scooter or bike for miles without feeling tired. Her skin, once dark, rough, and full of acne due to the medication, is now clear and glows with health.

Even though her right hand is still not as perfect as her left hand, the pain is gone.

Nguyet said: “My head does not hurt anymore, I no longer feel dizzy, and I feel so light now. As for the dangerous convulsions, they have become lighter and are no longer scary. For nearly a year now, I have stopped using anti-convulsants, which I used to cling to as my lifeline. Only after practicing Falun Gong was I able to find my courage again.”

The gentle, simple exercises and profound teachings of “Zhuan Falun” have illuminated Nguyet’s spirit. And following the principles of the universe taught by Falun Gong—truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance—has changed her character. She regards cultivating herself to be a better person as the driving force of her life.