When a person has cancer, the life of everyone in their family is turned upside down.
This is especially true in the case of poor patients who are being treated at Hanoi K Hospital, one of Vietnam’s biggest. These patients are the main breadwinners of the family, and when they fall ill kids are left in the care of other family members.
Some are cared for by grandparents or older siblings, some by neighbors who occasionally stop by the house to check on them. Families with adult cancer parents have no income or adults to look after the house and very often children have to drop out of school.
Since 2014 Empathy, a group of volunteers in Hanoi, has been financing the education of 40-50 such children and providing them with other support.
This is the possibly the only charity project in Vietnam to help the children of cancer patients.
Last week Empathy, consisting of hundreds of volunteers under the coordination of Dang Xuan Hop and his wife, organized Tet, the Lunar New Year, celebrations in Hanoi for the children they are supporting.
They have been doing this for many years during Tet, giving the kids small gifts and scholarships, encouraging them, playing games, and performing songs to ensuring the New Year is celebrated warmly.
The children who attended this year’s Tet celebrations came from many northern provinces with their relatives because their parents passed away or with just one parent because the other had died of cancer.
Phan Nguyet Anh, a member of the charity group, said Nguyen Thi Bach Duong, five, of Bac Giang Province was one of the most unfortunate of the children. Her mother Lanh, 37, had delivered her on her own while engaged as a worker.
Duong was just over a year old when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. When the Empathy Scholarship organized its Fun Festival for the first time, Duong had joined happily with her mother and grandmother.
At the second festival half a year later, it had been hard to recognize Lanh since her face had swollen because of the illness. At the third event last July Lanh had become so weak that only Duong and her grandmother came.
Before they could organize the fourth, Lanh had passed away. Duong’s grandparents are old and unable to work, so if she does not receive regular support, she will have to drop out of school.
Trang Thi Nguyet Nga, five, and Quang Viet Hung, four, are children of Trang Van Hung, 23, of the Thai ethnic group in Ban Hom, Chieng Co, Son La Province.
In April when the Empathy group first met Hung to offer help, he could not walk because his bone marrow cancer had paralyzed both his legs. Constantly by his sick bed, taking care, was his 22-year-old wife.
Nearly six months later Hung was discharged from hospital and went back to his normal life. But one day his wife left and could not be reached on her phone. Her family said, "We don't know where she went."
The young father has survived an often fatal disease and is now learning how to raise his two young children by himself.
Of the more than 40 students who were provided with financial assistance by the group, three have graduated from college and two from high school and found jobs, two others have graduated from high school and are now at university.
But there are still many children who need help, some just a few months old, some without either parent and some with a cancer-stricken father and overburdened mother who abandons their family because of the pressure.
The Empathy Scholarship supports the children with a monthly amount of VND1 million ($45) in case of high school students and VND2 million in case of college and university students to give them the opportunity to support themselves later.
The Sympameals charity project has over the last 14 years distributed meal coupons and milk to poor cancer patients in Hanoi.
Five years ago the project began to provide assistance to patients' children while they received treatment and after their death.
In summer and on the occasion of New Year, the charity arranges for patients' families to visit Hanoi though not the hospital: these are trips filled with laughter and joy.
This year's celebrations were held in Ly Thuong Kiet Secondary School. The group had invited doctors and nurses from AlinaVision, an eye hospital, to give the children tests, glasses and medicines.
After the eye examination the children go to the school playground to play. One of the games involves placing a ball on a spoon and running back and forth without dropping the ball.
The reward for all is some sweets and the kids love it.
The celebrations wrapped up with a party where everyone eats fried chicken. They all have a smile on their faces and happily pose for pictures with their parents and other relatives.
Their faces shine with hope because they know they are not struggling with illness alone.