St. Jude patient Tammy

Meet Tammy


age 5, brain cancer


Tammy’s given name is Tam, which means “heart” in Vietnamese.

“Not the physical heart, but the heart that resides in a being,” explained his dad, Tien. “I chose it because I felt like he would be somebody who will understand people’s hearts well.”

Over the summer of 2017, Tammy persistently experienced headaches and nausea. “We were going to our family doctor and then the ER, and everybody was dismissing it as a stomach virus,” remembered Tien.

St. Jude patient Tammy with his father and sister

St. Jude patient Tammy with his dad, Tien, and his sister, Jasmine

But then a doctor ordered a CT scan that showed a two-centimeter abnormality in Tammy’s brain.

“That’s when everything got very real and scary at the same time,” said Tien. “I had no idea what to think. Maybe one word, if you can put it in a box, is desperation. I went outside, I went to my knees. I was begging. I asked God, ‘Can I have some more time with him?’”

Tammy underwent surgery to remove the cancerous tumor – a type called anaplastic ependymoma – at a hospital near his home, but he needed more treatment for the best chance at a good outcome.

His parents learned about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital from a family in their area whose child was receiving treatment at St. Jude for a different type of brain cancer.

St. Jude patient Tammy

At St. Jude, Tammy’s treatment included proton therapy and chemotherapy. Even at his young age, Tammy was able to stay perfectly still for his proton treatments without requiring sedation. His St. Jude Child Life specialists saw this potential in him and worked with him to make it a reality.


“That was the first surprise for me,” said Tien. “When I saw him on the table actually doing it, that was a big eye opener. Something that you can’t coach is a heart to never quit. I remember Tammy asked Alice the first day he got up from surgery, ‘Mommy, what happened?’ We told him we found something dirty in his brain, and we had to take it out. And he asked this: why did it happen? And we didn’t have a clear answer. But what I told him was, ‘Tammy, we don’t know why this happened yet, but what we do know is, through this situation, you will be able to understand people’s hearts better, especially people going through pain.’ I feel like his heart is getting really big and deep. I admire that about him.”

St. Jude patient Tammy with his sister

Adults give up quickly, but kids, they just keep fighting. Not just Tammy. All the kids at St. Jude. You can see that they fight for their life; they just naturally want to. I really respect them.
Alice, St. Jude patient Tammy’s mom

Tammy is now finished with treatment and back home, although he returns to St. Jude for checkups.

Looking back to Tammy’s diagnosis, Tien said, “That time was tumultuous, like a storm. It brought a big perspective change in my life. Every day that we get is a blessing, and this is all more than I prayed for. Receiving all these blessings, the treatment at St. Jude and everything they offer us, my wife and I got the relief we were looking for.”

Patient Tammy

Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food, because all they should worry about is helping their child live.

St. Jude covers every base,” said Tien. “Our whole family is very grateful. The donors helped to make this possible with their hearts. It’s very beautiful what they’ve done.”


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Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for anything, because all they should worry about is helping their child live.

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