Karen Kwai-Ching Li, known as KC, has lived in fear of her osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bone, for almost 28 years.
She was diagnosed in 1991, at the age of 10, but failed medication over two months resulted in her tumors spreading, leading to an amputation of her leg. After the surgery and six rounds of chemotherapy, she went into remission.
Using her prosthetic leg to get around, she continues to see Dr. Godfrey Chan, a pediatric oncologist at Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong, to monitor her recovery and ensure that cancer doesn’t return.
“My condition has been pretty stable,” she stated.
To get through her treatment and the range of side effects of chemotherapy, KC turned to a seemingly contrasting practice: traditional Chinese medicine.
Each time she had chemotherapy, her body seemed weak, she said. Friends and family suggested the plant root ginseng, whose benefits are believed to include boosting energy, with recent studies supporting that claim.
When her family prepared ginseng for her to drink, she felt “more energized and regained a little more strength,” she described, which led her to use it after each chemotherapy session.
But she took it with Chan’s blessing — because Chan is not your typical oncologist. Though Chan practices modern Western medicine, his father was a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. After a childhood surrounded by herbs and remedies, he’s bringing the two together to explore the clinical value of herbal medicine.
His family history gives him an advantage, helping him connect a medical divide to the benefit of patients like KC, particularly in the cultural melting pot that is Hong Kong.