Channeling Grief Into Action_Breast Cancer Awareness

Channeling Grief into Action

Myvan Vuong, a 26-year-old, newly married, vibrant young woman, was a highly regarded healthcare provider in her community.  She had a long list of patients including the Australian Olympic Swimming Team.  Myvan did not fit the typical profile of a woman who would die of breast cancer just two short years later.  Alan Vuong, her brother, is doing his best to ensure that others are spared the brutal feelings of helplessness and loss that his family has suffered.  Channeling his grief into action, Alan has committed to increasing breast cancer awareness around the world.  And he’s saving lives along the way.

Myvan and Alan in 1998

The Rock of the Family

Myvan and Alan grew up in Australia, children of refugees from Vietnam.  Myvan, 10 years older than Alan, was not only an older sister to his brothers and him, but a mother figure as well.  With parents overtasked trying to provide for their family in a new country, Myvan was a steady source of support and love.  “She was the rock of the family who kept everyone together,” Alan explained. 

Myvan was a respected acupuncturist in the community and an expert in eastern medicine.  Not wanting to burden her family and friends emotionally or financially, Myvan kept her diagnosis of breast cancer a secret.  Relying on her knowledge and experience in natural healing, she initially tried to remedy the disease on her own without traditional treatment from western doctors and hospitals. 

Purely by chance, Myvan’s father discovered that she had cancer.  The family was desperate to help in any way possible.  But Myvan was convinced she could heal herself.  Alan described how his family was at a complete loss, “We didn’t know what to do as a family.  We had no experience – no one we knew had died from it.  There was no trace of breast cancer in our family.”

Myvan eventually turned to western methods as her health failed to improve.  The doctors and local hospital did everything they could for her.  Sadly, neither eastern nor western medicine could save Myvan.  She died in 2005 at just 28 years old.

Taking Action – A Family Affair

Almost 20 years later, Alan is carrying on his sister’s legacy of support and kindness in his daily life.  I was fortunate to meet Alan in Singapore, where he was working as a tennis coach with MITS.  Our working relationship developed through tennis, but it was his skillful coaching methods and nurturing approach that made him like family.  He was able to balance being both a coach and a friend.

“My drive for my life is to help people – whether it’s on the tennis court or lending a hand of support.” 

-Alan Vuong

Prioritizing others is an engrained value in the Vuong family.  Only one year after the loss of Myvan, the family hosted a champagne breakfast to fundraise for the doctors and the hospital in Australia that treated his sister.  It was important to the family to give back to those who went the extra mile during those last difficult months of Myvan’s life. 

Alan, following his family’s example, continued to host charity events.  Driven by a desire to protect others from experiencing the loss he suffered, his mission was to spread awareness and raise funds for research.  His last year living in Australia, he hosted a large tennis event, called United We Stand, specifically for Breast Cancer research.

Finding Courage to Go Global

As it often does, life took an unexpected turn.  Agreeing to help expand MITS operations, Alan moved to Singapore.  The transition required for an international move is intense.  It takes time and patience to re-establish your home and work life.  It can be a lonely experience living without the comfort of friends and family who know your history.  Finding the courage to share about the loss of his sister took time. 

But Alan felt it was inevitable; he knew he had a greater purpose: “It took a while to build the confidence, comfort, and support to discuss the subject – what happened to my sister.  But I realized I was put in this place to pass on the message – awareness, listening to others, spread the word, help more people; I lost someone so close to me – I don’t want to lose anyone else.”

A World of Pink

Part of Alan’s job in Singapore involved coaching teams who participated in WITS, an international women’s tennis league.  The Pink Ladies, one his long-standing teams, was instrumental in providing Alan the support he needed to start hosting events again.  Alan’s ideas of spreading awareness and fundraising were whole-heartedly embraced.  The Pink Ladies provided Alan with encouragement and kind words as well as the legal and logistical support needed.

Channeling Grief Into Action_Breast Cancer Awareness
Members of the Pink Ladies: Dianna, Diane, Jackie and Yolande (starting from left)

In May of 2018, Alan and the Pink Ladies hosted a large, international women’s tennis tournament: their first event in support of Breast Cancer Awareness and Research.  For Diane, one of the captains of the Pink Ladies, attending Alan’s event likely saved her life.  The brochures and booklets she helped Alan distribute led her to the discovery of a threat to her own life. 

Diane recalled, “It was indeed the Breast Cancer (Singapore) booklets that were given to all participants at Alan’s breast cancer awareness tennis tournament that alerted me to have some “puckering” of the skin around my left nipple checked out… The descriptions and pictures within confirmed that I needed to get checked out. Within days, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. I was 50 years old.”

Channeling Grief Into Action_Breast Cancer Awareness
Diane Making a Full Recovery

Diane received her cancer diagnosis within weeks of the event, with a successful mastectomy shortly after.  She is currently cancer free, active, and living her best life.  For Alan, this confirmed his feelings of his purpose.  He was now a witness to the power of awareness and prevention.

New Country – New Challenge

Continuing his international tennis career and the expansion of MITS, Alan is currently living in Laos.  And although Laos offers a vastly different perspective on healthcare and treatment, one thing is consistent in every country he has lived: the kindness of people. 

“When I moved to Laos, there were difficult times as well; it was a tough new environment.  But just a couple of kind people – they helped, and it made all the difference.  One little act of kindness makes you forget about the harder things.” 

Alan has continued hosting events to support Breast Cancer Awareness and Research, even though it is a novel concept in Laos, where people have little information and prevention for Breast Cancer.  Promoting a healthy lifestyle and prevention are his main goals: “I get them in with fun activities.  Then I start to talk to them about breast cancer.”  The 2022 event will be his third in three straight years, even managing to persevere through the turbulent times of the pandemic.  Alan has been pleased with the enthusiasm of the community, both participants and corporate sponsors.

Channeling Grief Into Action_Breast Cancer Awareness

Honoring Family by Celebrating Life

Most of Alan’s family is still in Australia, but his efforts to fight breast cancer helps him feel closer to them.  He strives to set an example of kindness for his nephews:

“It’s a brutal experience to go through.  Sitting back, watching, feeling helpless.  We couldn’t help – we didn’t know.  If I can help one person – it can start to spread.  It’s like the reverse effect of what cancer is – it does the opposite – spreading to prevent and fix.”

As Diane’s story exemplified, every act of kindness has a ripple effect.  And, clearly, Alan’s kindness is saving lives.  Losing someone dear is a traumatic life experience.  But Alan and his family have channeled that grief into healing action.  As Alan’s brother, Chiton Vuong, eloquently said, “Let’s not grieve her death.  Let’s celebrate her life.”


As Myvan’s story exemplifies, anyone can fall victim to Breast Cancer.  A recent study has shown that 85% of those affected had no family history of breast cancer.  Take a few minutes to increase your own awareness today and pass it on!  Click here for comprehensive information.

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"As of the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer."
-World Health Organization

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