September 2011

Dear friends,

Today is a hard day – today I cried. I didn’t cry when I was diagnosed with breast cancer – I didn’t cry throughout the treatments – crying doesn’t help. But one of the results from my journey with cancer is the almost unbearable awareness of the pain of the women of Cambodia. This morning my managers are all here and they presented me with a list of stories of women suffering from illness who are living in their communities.

Pheow is my manager in Takeo – he is in his mid forties, is married and has 4 children of his own. Pheow – like so many of my staff – gives so much of himself to the families he works with. Pheow is also very supportive and desperate to have Nokor Tep Women’s hospital up and running.

One of Pheow’s women is Chan Saran – she is 63 years old and gave birth to 4 children. Her husband is still living. Four and half years ago, she suffered from a prolapsed uterus. She went to a doctor who told her to get an operation but she had no money and so never went. For the past 4.5 years, Chan Saran has walked in pain – when the pain is too great – she takes local herbal medicines to help.

Then Chan said to Pheow, please take a picture of it. Cambodian women are very shy about their bodies – even more so about private parts – it is in her desperation that she begged Pheow to take a picture – this is what made me cry. How much suffering can one person have in her life – for Chan Saran it has been filled with war and genocide, unbearable poverty and now she is ending her life in great pain – so great that she is willing to forgo her dignity in the hopes of a hospital in waiting.

Apo, my manager is Kompong Thom shared a story. Poun Roeung is 39 years old and has given birth to six children. Poun’s breast began hurting 5 years ago – once, a long time ago she went to seek medical help. It cost a lot of money and the medicine she got didn’t work. She and her family are very poor. She can no longer work very hard – when she works hard her breast and her arm hurt very much. This makes her husband very angry. When he comes home from the fields he expects his rice ready – when it isn’t he beats her severely. He refuses to allow her to go and look for help. She is desperate and waiting.

Tharry shared a story about Hak Own who is 16 years old. For the past three years, Hak has had a breast lump that has grown in size and causes her much pain. She has never gone to a doctor because her father is blind and cannot work and her mother is too busy because she needs to earn enough for all her seven children. Hak is afraid she is dying – she often faints now – the breast is heavy and she can’t sleep from the pain and the fear. Hak is so afraid – so very afraid. She is waiting.

Vonn shared about Chat Toll – a 42 year old woman who suffers from a vaginal discharge tinged with blood. She went a doctor who told her she had lumps in her uterus and she needed an operation but she had no money for such things and so didn’t go. She is a widow and a fear for death which she believes is near. She used a Cambodian saying to explain her great fear –“I will die but with my eyes open”. This expresses her fear for her children who will be orphaned with no one to care for them and her soul will not rest as she must watch her children from the other side.

Stories of Cambodian Women


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