What a great start to the Brio Heritage Series! I enjoyed reading Dr. Neetu and Dr. Carin’s stories about how their families have impacted their health journeys and their decision to become Naturopathic Doctors. Like them, different life experiences and events influenced my path to becoming a physician. My story begins with the serious health challenges of my older sister and continues with my personal health struggles as a young adult. I’ll start with a little background on my family.
My Dad was originally from Singapore and moved to Hong Kong to run a family textile business. My Mom had a brief career as a school teacher, but eventually worked in the travel industry. It was her love of traveling that brought her to visit Vancouver in the early 1970’s. They both fell in love with Vancouver and decided to immigrate from Hong Kong to Canada in the mid-1970’s. Like many immigrant families at the time, it was a very difficult transition for them. They both worked hard and very long hours. Initially, my parents owned and operated a grocery store on Hastings Street. They eventually settled in Richmond and changed careers; my Dad began working for a produce company that imported Asian vegetables, while my Mom’s love of traveling landed her a career with Air Canada.
One of the reasons my parents decided to move to Canada was their hope to provide a better life for my older sister, Emily. Emily was born with a genetic disorder called Neurofibromatosis, which causes tumours to develop along nerve cells throughout the body. These nerve cell tumours can cause pain and can lead to disfigurement. At about the age of 2, doctors discovered a tumour on the right hemisphere of Emily’s brain. They decided to remove the tumor, but the surgery resulted in damage that caused partial paralysis to the left side of her body, as well as some cognitive deficits. She also had tumours growing behind her right eye which affected her vision. As a child, Emily would be in and out of the hospital due to the multiple surgeries and follow-ups. To this day, she continues to struggle with these tumour growths.
When I was a kid, I was unable to comprehend the complications of Emily’s condition, but I was always sensitive to her suffering. While she was recovering in her bedroom, I would find myself spending time with her, trying to cheer her up. I would make up silly stories, or tell her jokes to make her laugh. I saw that laughter distracted her from her pain and somehow helped her feel better. When I look back, I can see now how these early experiences contributed to my strong sense of empathy and compassion for others, especially those who suffer from pain and health issues. These attributes would be important as I continued to learn about myself, develop my interests, and discover where my career path was headed.
After completing high school in Richmond, I was enrolled in the Bachelor of Science program at UBC. During my university years, I was not very healthy. I had gained excessive weight due to poor habits in diet and lifestyle. My family history of heart disease and diabetes was catching up with me, as I was starting to show some early signs of Type 2 diabetes. I also struggled with digestive issues including IBS and food allergies. At the time, antibiotics were used to treat my digestive issues. After several failed attempts to help me feel better, I turned to Chinese herbs. It was around this time that I was introduced to Naturopathic Medicine. The combination of Chinese herbs, Naturopathic supplements and dietary changes transformed my health. My fatigue and mental focus improved significantly, my digestive issues were eliminated, and I lost 50 lb! Although dramatic, these incredible changes did not happen overnight. It took great discipline and a high level of commitment to follow the dietary and lifestyle changes. This transformation reinforced my interest in holistic and natural medicine and ultimately lead to my studies in Naturopathic Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture.