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June 9, 2014

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Story of how cancer was beaten

AS the summer vacation approaches, 42-year-old Zhang Haiqing is making plans to visit her hometown with her son, like many other families who have moved to Shanghai.

But Zhang has to make extra preparations, because 12-year-old Yin Ruiqi has just overcome bone cancer and still suffers hypoimmunity.

“Due to the change of environment, he suffers from fever, diarrhea and ulcers every time we go back to Yuanping in Shanxi Province, so I have to bring all kinds of medicines along,” Zhang told Shanghai Daily.

That’s why they had returned to Yuanping only twice during the past two years.

“But Ruiqi’s grandpa will be 80 next month. We have to attend his birthday party as Ruiqi is his eldest grandson,” Zhang explained.

Zhang’s family was chosen as one of the most beautiful families in Shanghai this year after her diaries relating how she helped her son fight cancer touched and inspired many people. Originally posted online, they were published as a book last year.

‘Outstanding horse’

Zhang came to Shanghai in 1992 and married her husband Yin Quanxi, also from Yuanping. Ruiqi was born in June, 2002.

The couple have high expectations for their boy — the surname Yin means silver, while Rui means clever. The second character of his first name “Qi” is pronounced the same as “riding” in Chinese, as 2002 was the year of horse.

“We hope he can make his way in the world as an outstanding horse,” Zhang said.

Life seemed good as they bought an apartment and car and their son received excellent reports from school.

However, Ruiqi began to feel severe pains in his feet one day in July 2011 while swimming. Zhang took him to the local children's hospital where he was diagnosed with foot cysts, which were removed.

But a biopsy found that the boy had Burkitt’s lymphoma — a cancer of the lymphatic system — which had spread to most of his bones.

“His cancer grew so fast that it made us desperate. We were told all his bones except the cranium were affected,” Zhang said.

Doctors said that Ruiqi might die at anytime if he did not undergo chemotherapy.

Zhang asked for long-term leave from her job as an electromechanical equipment installer to look after her son and began to keep a diary.

‘A Countdown of Life’

“I knew it was possible he would die at 10 years old, with no other people remembering him in the future. I hoped to keep some record of his short life. I didn’t want him to pass away without a trace,” Zhang said.

“I also thought about suicide by jumping into the Huangpu River if I could not get over the sorrow of losing him. But if I was saved, I may not be brave enough to try again and I would need something to console myself. The diary would be a good choice to remember him by,” she added.

She named the diaries “A Countdown of Life.”

The treatment was painful, but Zhang and her husband tried to make their son optimistic about it. When Ruiqi lost his hair undergoing chemotherapy, his father shaved his own head in support of his son.

A miracle happened after six sessions of treatment. On March 7, 2013, Zhang took Ruiqi to a hospital for biopsies. But the doctor said no obvious lesions could be found in his bones and another hospital gave the same diagnosis.

Zhang told her husband, who called every relative and friend to tell them Ruiqi had recovered. Then Zhang put her handwritten diaries online.

Now, Ruiqi only needs check ups once a year but lacks immunity due to the chemotherapy and easily picks up infections.

Last year, he went to hospital 30 times but this year he has only been three times.

Ruiqi still must undergo a 5-year observation period.

Zhang said she decided to publish the diaries — more than 400,000 words — both to provide hope for people in similar situations and thank everyone who has helped her family.

Though part of the medical fees are covered by public medical insurance system, the family has had to pay 400,000 yuan (US$ 63,990) to date.

Colleagues donated 130,000 yuan, while students and teachers at Ruiqi’s school raised 60,000 yuan. And after Zhang put her diaries online, web users also sent money.

“I have received about 500,000 yuan, including money borrowed from relatives and friends.” Zhang said.

“I am really grateful to those who have helped and I have recorded them all in a notebook and in my heart,” she said.

Ruiqi is now a junior high school student alongside his peers, while his mother is still writing diaries.


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