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‘I’ve been very lucky’: Mai Duong doing well 7 months after stem cell transplant

MONTREAL – Every day is like a breath of fresh air for Mai Duong.

“I’m doing pretty well,” she said while sitting on a park bench outside her home.

“I don’t want to jinx it but things have been pretty good with me. I’ve been very, very lucky.”

The 35-year-old mother fought – and beat – leukemia twice.

“I was pregnant with my second child and I found out that I had leukemia after a routine blood test,” she recalled.

READ MORE: Montreal mother finds much-needed cord blood donor

She was forced to terminate the pregnancy so she could focus on fighting the aggressive cancer.

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“I knew that it was going to be hard,” she said.

When Global News first met Duong, she was trapped in a small hospital room, sitting in isolation because of her weak immune system.

READ MORE: Montreal mother Mai Duong back home after new stem cells

Through it all, her daughter Alice was never far from her mind.

“A bit dramatic. She was just watching TV, didn’t want us to disturb her,” Duong told Global News. Louis-Xavier Roux/Global News

Duong’s family started a national campaign to find her a bone marrow donor.

READ MORE: The possible alternatives to bone marrow transplant

“The pool of donors is really, really small,” she explained.

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“When somebody is being hit by cancer or any type of blood diseases, you don’t have any choice.

“You have to look for a donor and you don’t have a lot of time because you have a deadline.”

Of the 25 million donors across the world, someone of Asian origin has around a one in 20,000 chance of finding a match.

Smiling, Mai Duong has a new, brighter outlook on life. Louis-Xavier Roux/Global News

For Duong, there was none.

“To find a bone marrow transplant was very slim, but to find an umbilical cord, I had a chance,” said Duong.

Duong said her husband, Vlad Stesin, never lost hope that a match would be found.

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“He is my rock. He is, absolutely,” she said.

“I’m his rock and he’s my rock. He’s there 100 per cent and that’s so important to me.”

Her optimism paid off and last October, Duong received an umbilical cord blood transplant.

“I was very lucky because I’m fairly small, but not a lot of people have that chance,” she said.

READ MORE: Vietnamese community rallies to help Montreal mother find bone marrow donor

She’s come a long way already, but the journey is far from over.

“No hugging, no touching,” she said. “No physical contact for two years because it takes a long time for my immune system to be 100 per cent.”

Seven months after the transplant, her life has changed dramatically.

“We cannot go out and eat at a busy restaurant. I can’t,” she said.

“Or let’s say, going to the Jazz Fest. There’s too many people around.”

And yet, there is one thing at the back of her mind.

“You have menopause right after, when you have that high dose of chemotherapy,” she explained.

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“We have three embryos in the freezer and now we just have to figure out if we do want to have other kids or not.”

That’s something Duong says she’s going to worry about once she’s completely health again.

WATCH: Mai’s journey from hospital to home
“Having just Alice [my daughter] being so healthy for us, it’s really good,” she said smiling. “It’s enough.”

For now, Duong said she just wants to live.

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“Other cancer survivors told me that after a while, after years, you get to…forget.”

rachel.lau@globalnews.ca

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