A South Surrey woman who trusted her gut when it came to chest pains is sharing her survival story in support of VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation’s Millionaire Lottery.
Kim Toeun’s story is a rare one in many ways. For one, the cancer she was diagnosed with in 2018 – adenoid cystic carcinoma – is rare in itself.
But where it grew was also unusual, as was the fact that she developed it at such a young age; her symptoms began six years ago, when she was around 22.
“This tumour that I actually ended up having is a very, very rare type of tumour. My surgeon, Dr. (John) Yee… (said) this is one of the more rare of the rare,” Toeun said Monday (Nov. 22).
“If it wasn’t for (Vancouver General Hospital), honestly, I probably would’ve been dead.”
Toeun said she began noticing symptoms of something amiss with her body in 2015, when she was pregnant with her daughter. Living in southwest Edmonton at the time, the avid runner and gym enthusiast initially thought her breathing difficulties were the result of over-exerting herself, and scaled back.
When the problems persisted, she turned to her local hospital, where it was suggested it was due to her growing fetus pushing up on her diaphragm.
Finding it “really tough” to get answers that made sense – medical professionals were telling her she was too young for it to be anything like cancer – Toeun returned to B.C. with her husband and daughter, where her quest led her to VGH.
She quickly learned that her instincts had been right on the mark. A cancer that is typically found in the salivary gland or brain was found “dead smack in the middle” of her airways.
Undetected by X-ray and barely noticeable in a CT scan, a bronchoscopy located the growth, and Yee was “the only one… that wanted to touch the surgery,” Toeun said.
On Oct. 3, 2018, the tumour – which was also much bigger than anticipated – was removed. Toeun, who is a Fraser Health nurse, said a pathologist tested the excised tissues throughout the surgery, so that Yee could ensure he got clear margins.
Three weeks later, despite complications that kept her in the intensive care unit for longer than expected, Toeun went home cancer-free, and said regular checks over the three years since have continued to confirm that she remains that way.
Toeun said she visits the hospital every year on the anniversary of her surgery to express her appreciation, dropping off goodies to a trio of units as a thank-you for the care she received and for how staff did what they could to ensure the journey was the best it could be for her husband as well.
Still “learning how to deal with my new airways,” Toeun – who prides herself on always having a positive attitude towards life and whatever it throws in her path – had a message for anyone who feels something isn’t quite right with their own health: “Just trust your instincts.”
“Know your body and really seek the help if you feel like something is off,” she said.
She said she is confident that the equipment and expertise at VGH – made possible in large part by support for the hospital foundation and fundraisers like the home lottery – made all the difference in her journey.
“The way they treat their patients, the equipment that they have, the physicians, the nurses – everybody that they have is next to none,” Toeun said.
“I think that comes a lot from the funding and the foundation. It makes a world of difference when we can rally up for VGH foundation, the Millionaire Lottery. All that money goes into things that I personally know are totally worth it in the end.”
The Millionaire Lottery raises funds for research, advancing specialized adult health care and purchasing critical medical equipment at Vancouver General Hospital, UBC Hospital, GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, Vancouver Community Health Services and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.
Tickets went on sale early last month, and two Semiahmoo Peninsula homes are among nine choices for the winner of the grand-prize package.
Grand prize options also include properties located in North Vancouver, Courtenay, Langley, Vancouver, Sooke, Kelowna, or an option to take $2.7 million.
Due to COVID-19, the grand prize homes are not open to the public this year.
Tickets – two for $100, five for $175, 10 for $300 and 25 for $600 – can be purchased online at www.millionairelottery.com, by phoning 604-602-5848 or at any London Drugs.
For more information, visit www.millionairelottery.com
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