A Chinese "Iron Man's" 17-year fight against cancer

Source: Xinhua| Published: 2015-10-14


Chinese "Iron Man" Hu Yongsheng is living with seven implanted titanium plates, 46 nails and cement injected into his bones. Photo from sina.com

Chinese "Iron Man" Hu Yongsheng is living with seven implanted titanium plates, 46 nails and cement injected into his bones.

Hu, a 33-year-old cancer patient from north China's Shanxi Province, has been locked in a 17-year seesaw battle with tumors that has required 11 major operations and 12 full courses of chemoradiotherapy.

Hu has been told by doctors that he cannot have additional surgery due to his poor health. In late September, he started writing about his illness on his Weibo account and announced he is willing to volunteer in clinical trials for medicine and treatments in the hope of helping other cancer patients in the future. His posts have attracted considerable online and media attention.

"If there is no way to cure me, I would like to be a live donor. My life deserves it, even if I can help promote one small step forward in the treatment of cancer," Hu told Xinhua.

Hu was struck with a rare disease at 16. Doctors found a tumor in the blood vessels in the kidney. Although they removed the malignant tumor, doctors said he would not live more than three months.

Hospitals said Hu's symptoms were consistent with pheochromocytoma, a rare tumor of adrenal gland tissue, though he did not have the hypertension that affects most pheochromocytoma patients. His was the first case of the disease in China, according to doctors.

Pheochromocytoma is extremely rare. Hu said pheochromocytoma treatment generally involves removing the tumor through surgery. If the tumor cannot be surgically removed, patients will need to take medication to manage it. In a few cases, the tumors come back.


Hu and his parents Photo from sina.com

Hu's parents did not give up. They hid the diagnosis from their son. Half a year passed, and then a year passed. Hu was discharged from the hospital and outlived doctors' predictions.

However, misfortune hit the family once again. Hu underwent a second operation in Beijing as the tumors had spread to other parts of his body by 2005.

Holding a walking stick, "Iron Man" Hu learned to stand up and walk again and looked for work.

After countless rejections, he eventually became a salesman. Two and a half years later, Hu was even promoted to deputy general manager of the company.

"I thought everything would go well in my life, but the shadow of death loomed again as my situation got worse and the cancer spread to my bones," said Hu, who had to have titanium replacements injected with bone cement following surgery to remove the tumor-affected bone.

Despite the fact that doctors said after every operation that he would never walk, he stood up again and again through hard work, optimism and perseverance.

"Walking is supposed to be a life-long skill for a normal person, but my son has learned to walk four times," Hu's mother Xu Ming said.

Over the past 17 years, Hu's parents, who are in their sixties, have sold everything they have to save their son's life.

A heavy leather suitcase, stuffed with medical records and X-ray images, is all Hu Yongsheng's family has.

"Our family will not be ruined as long as our son is alive," Xu said.

Hu feels he owes his parents too much. "They have suffered great mental and economic pressure because of me," he said.

His illness worsened last year, forcing him to become bedridden. His parents told him the truth about his prognosis at that time.

He actually learned the truth a while ago after checking his medical files. Still, he has not given up living a normal life and does not want to yield to fate.

Sleeping and eating have become difficult for him. He often wakes up from the pain caused by the tumors. Only 30 percent of the pain is alleviated through pain killers or anesthetics.

The side effects of the anesthetics, pain killers and sleeping pills include digestive disorders and vomiting, making it difficult for him to chew his food.

"But I can swallow it. If I don't eat any food, I'll die sooner or later," he said.

Unable to move freely, Hu makes efforts to stand every morning to wash his face, brush his teeth and shave. He practices walking with the help of a walker three times a day and takes a shower every week.

"Fighting does not necessarily means success, but waiting and surrendering definitely mean death," Hu said.

He called the families of cancer patients who stayed in the same wards and found that most had passed away. "They were younger than I am," he said with a sigh.

It is the love of his parents and his hope that keep him going.

Hu's mother said his medical records and images have been replicated by many doctors and scholars with their permission for scientific research on his rare condition.

"I hope doctors and hospitals in other parts of the world can provide help for me," Hu said, adding that he hopes other patients are encouraged by his story. His letter on Weibo has attracted more than 80,000 hits.

"After reading his story, I feel that the challenges I face in life are nothing. I believe I can survive and offer more love to those who love me," wrote a stomach cancer patient surnamed Zheng on Sina Weibo.

Iron Man from the movie always defeats the bad guys, and Hu Yongsheng believes that if he tries, he may win. Even he fails, he would like to die a hero.