CONVERSATIONS WITH… A Paediatric Cancer Guest Relations Executive

Simply put, Mai Nguyen’s role is to be a patient’s friend ― she shares her job’s joys and sorrows.

Although she hails from Vietnam, the 30-year-old has called Singapore home for the last 10 years. Mai joined Parkway Cancer Centre ― a friend introduced her ― after completing a Bachelor of Business Marketing degree at SIM University. She has clocked five years’ experience here since.

Could you walk us through what you do?
I am an intermediary between patients and doctors, nurses and dietitians. I take care of the logistics and admin ― like supporting the patient’s pre-admission and discharge procedures, arranging ambulances and evacuations. I also ensure that their cancer care is well-coordinated between Singapore and the region, through our network of regional offices.

Most importantly, I’m the patient’s friend ― I take this journey with him or her. I honestly never thought I’d be working here that long. But the work that I do very meaningful and I’m enjoying it.

What’s one moment in your workplace you will never forget?
There was one case that I found particularly memorable. A cancer patient’s condition had turned critical and he had become paralysed. He was unable to talk and recognise people. His parents were disappointed and at that point, we could only wish for a miracle. I visited them hoping to be able to ease some of the burdens they were carrying. Then, suddenly after three days, he took a turn for the better ― he was able to recognise and call his mum! After three weeks, he managed to stand by himself and even say a few words.

“There are definitely more rewarding days than difficult ones.”

What drives you to push on, seeing such circumstances on a daily basis?
It was very difficult for us to witness what the patient was suffering. There are days that are just so overwhelming, but there are also days that are rewarding. And there are definitely more rewarding days than difficult ones.

What is the most challenging thing you face at work?
I realise that when it comes to paediatric cancer, parents and other family members experience even higher levels of psychological distress than the child with cancer. It is really hard to watch your child suffer.

Because of that, I try to spend more time with the paediatric patients. I keep my phone by my side, so that I don’t miss any calls from them. Things get more challenging when I get closer to the patients and they become my friends. I need to be objective so that I can balance each of my patient’s physical and emotional needs. Even when I feel like crying, I know that it’s not helpful to my patients when I break down.

What keeps you going every day?
It’s true that my job can be very sad at times. But it’s also extremely gratifying. I’m happy when I see that whatever I contribute can make an improvement on another’s life. I love kids, and I love seeing them smile, be happy and healthy.

What you’d like to say to parents of cancer patients…
Don’t walk the journey alone. If you ever feel like talking, we’re here to listen.

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