Volunteers support Hanoi cancer patients during Covid-19 wave

At 12:30 p.m., a truck slowly decelerated and stopped in front of the barrier on lane 91, residential group 14, Kien Hung Ward, Hanoi’s Ha Dong District. A group of people wearing two layers of masks quickly ran to the back of the vehicle, taking turns to unload bags of rice, squash, fish, cooking oil and others, neatly arranged on the sidewalk nearby.

Tran Duc Xuan, while quickly moving things around, reminded everyone: "Please deliver all the food supplies to the first inn at the start of the alley."

Le Thi Doan, 54, jotted down the quantity of goods and instructed four-five people to divide them into prepared plastic bags. When done, she called another group to let them know the time they could come collect the goods placed at the front gate.

Food is gathered at the blockade fence in front of residential group 14 before being delivered to outpatient of K Hospital, Thanh Tri District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Do Nhung.

Food is gathered at the barrier in front of residential group 14 before being delivered to outpatients at K Hospital, Thanh Tri District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Do Nhung.

Xuan, Doan and others are all innkeepers in residential groups 14 - 15, often called "cancer neighborhood" due to its high number of patients treated at the K Hospital facility, a leading oncology facility, in Tan Trieu Commune, Thanh Tri District.

"When the neighborhood was blocked off two days ago, there were about 600 patients stuck here. Most of them were poor and from other provinces, unable to react or prepare anything, so they faced many difficulties and shortages. We found a way to help them," Doan said.

"When the hospital was placed under lockdown on May 7 (after 10 Covid-19 infections were detected there), most patients returned home since they couldn’t wait for treatment. Some stayed because their health was too poor or they were afraid of being quarantined," Xuan added. "They don’t know anyone or have any relatives in the city to provide relief and food. Meanwhile, wet markets around the area are closed down, causing many people to worry about how to survive the situation."

The volunteer group receives daily donations. Volunteers are then divided into two teams, driving motorbikes or pushing carts, to transport supplies to patrons trapped in isolated areas.

Supplies typically include rice, eggs, fish, instant noodles, cooking oil, vegetables as well as face masks.

Vu Thi Minh Tam, a native of Kinh Mon Town in northern Hai Duong Province, is staying in Hanoi along with her husband, in the third stage of lung cancer. She once said to her husband: "Now I don’t know where to find food to eat for the next 21 days."

A cancer patient receives supplies for two other patients in the same inn. Photo by VnExpress/Do Nhung.

A cancer patient receives supplies on behalf of two other patients at the same inn. Photo by VnExpress/Do Nhung.

Everything came so unexpectedly that she did not have time to buy a backup supply of food. Receiving essential food supplies from the volunteer group, enough for a week, she is happy and assured she "will live well" in the coming days.

Bui Duc Ninh, a volunteer for residential group 14, said: "For patients waiting for K Hospital to reopen, this is a valuable gift."

Explaining the birth of the volunteer group, Xuan said: "There was a patient who rented a room alone and said he could not find and eat vegetables for several days since the shops and wet markets around were closed. I told myself, if patients in the hospital are taken care of properly, outpatients should also be taken care of because they suffer the same illness. So I went on social media to call for support to help them."

After half a day, he received many calls from donors from all over Hanoi who sent in rice, sticky rice and other food supplies. He admitted he was quite surprised when seeing his initiative receive such positive responses.

He called to ask Doan to make a list of patients staying in the "cancer neighborhood" and ask local authorities for distribution permission. The first food truck arrived at 3 p.m. on May 11 and the innkeepers were called to pick up supplies for their patrons. However, due to fear of large gatherings affecting epidemic prevention, Xuan came up with another plan.

"This time I assigned five innkeepers to divide food and bring it to each building. It's a little hard but it's safe," he explained.

The next day, with protective clothing and two layers of face masks, the innkeepers located in the blocked-off area set off, heading out to inns from 12:30 p.m., the most deserted time to limit contact. Their work usually ends at 9 p.m.

"Everyone's sweat flows like a stream since we head out under the scorching noon sun while wearing protective clothing. But we keep ourselves motivated by thinking about how our efforts will provide great relief to those who are suffering," Doan said.

Going from house to house, they have met many cancer patients who live alone and dare not leave their rooms. After receiving their supplies, these patients would shower the volunteers with thanks and gratitude, making the members feel deeply touched.

One day, while sweating and organizing food supplies, Doan received a call from a patient asking for help. Unable to get treatment due to the lockdown order, the patient had fainted and sustained a head injury. Without hesitation, the female innkeeper temporarily handed over her work to other members and started calling everywhere seeking an ambulance. Luckily, the patient received critical assistance in time to recover.

Xuan, in turn, has received many food necessities from donors who have remained anonymous.

Last Friday morning, a sponsor called to pledge 300 meals a day until the lockdown order for the "cancer neighborhood" is lifted. Opening a lunch box full of food and vegetables, a happy Xuan told the group that in hard times like these, the beauty of helping others shines brighter than ever.



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