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My journey to cancer treatment in Cambodia

Bunthan Kahn was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) in 2017. He’s a tour guide, a husband, a young father, and an avid learner. From traveling far to meet with specialized physicians, to seeking treatment in his country, his journey toward finding hope took perseverance. This is his story from his own words:

Access to treatment means everything to me, it brings hope, happiness, dreams, and a new life to fulfill the need of my family and my community.

I was born in 1986 in a small village in the Siem Reap Province in Cambodia. When I turned 15, my parents sent me to Siem Reap city to have a better education.

When I first came to this city, I lived in a Buddhist monastery because I did not have any relatives here and my parents could not afford to pay for the rent. My first impression was seeing people speak English and some of the older generations working as tour guides. (Siem Reap is the gateway city to the ruins of Angkor.)

Becoming a tour guide became my dream job and I started working hard on this subject after I finished school.

In that time, we could not find native English teachers, so whenever I had free time, I always went to the temples to practice my English.

In 2007, I graduated from high school and applied for a job in the hotel and restaurant industry. I got a job as a waiter in a small pizza shop and afterwards, I was able to go to university. I have changed my jobs several times, as a bartender at the airport, to working at a travel company and volunteering as an English teacher.

Bunthan is a tour guide in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

In 2012, I became an official English-speaking tour guide, as what I had always dreamed, and it was the same year I met my wife. We married in late 2014, and two years later my wife got pregnant.

We were very happy, and we wanted to make our living situation a bit more convenient because living in a small renting room seemed not easy with a baby. We got a loan to purchase a small block of land outside of the city and built a small house to start our family.

We hoped everything would go smoothly, but something went wrong. I felt my body went wrong.

I became weak and lost weight (around six kilograms in a month). I had a fever all the time and sweat a lot during the night. I thought this was probably because I did not have an air conditioner, but during the day I felt very cold and noticed something swollen on my left side below my chest.

My wife told me to go to have the blood test, she was afraid if I have typhoid fever. I went to the doctor one week before my wife’s delivery date, and the lab technician told me everything was fine but my white blood cells were too high. They told me I can go to Phnom Penh or Thailand to get help.

Bunthan with his wife and son.

Ten days after my wife delivered my son, I traveled to Bangkok to see a doctor that knew how to treat me. Three weeks later the results came.

My tears came, I was very shocked and nervous, that was the most difficult moment of my life.

I felt hopeless, but the doctor said, “you are very lucky to have CML and thank god because it is treatable.”

After many turning points searching for a hospital in Cambodia that could provide me with treatment, I was referred to Merci Medical Center (MMC) outside of Phnom Penh—about a six-hour drive from Siem Reap City.

I said to myself, I got blessed by the god to find the place and the drug. I feel like I am reborn again, without this where would my life and family have gone? My hope came back as I returned to work. For the first six months, my health started to recover.

Bhuntan at a patient support group meeting.

After increasing the dosage of the first treatment, my results were not as good as the doctor had expected. Luckily, at the request of my doctor, The Max Foundation was able to ship me a different treatment, and my results have since improved.

No matter what happened in my life, I always keep chasing my dream and stay strong. Photography is part of my life now as well, learning technique, finding beautiful spots and landscapes. I think even though I am sick, my brain is not.

I’ve been living with CML for two years. Sometimes life is unfair and unpredictable, and the most important thing is we should learn to accept and live with it.


Piyapong Siriviriyan

Piyapong is an advocate based in our Bangkok Office who supports families facing myeloma.



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