The Tuyen Nguyen
Rare Cancers Program

Friends and Family Share Their Memories and Tributes

When asked to describe Tuyen Nguyen, the first thing most people would say was, “He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” Not only did this come from his friends and community members who met him in person, but from people who he’d only ever spoken to over the phone. These responses made me view my older brother’s taciturn strictness in a new light.

Upon reflection, I realized that since he was young, as the second child and oldest son, Tuyen had always taken care of our family. When he was around 10 years old, our parents worked long hours, so Tuyen took care of his younger siblings, a 6-year-old sister, and 5- and 3-year-old brothers. Both younger brothers had terrible and daily tantrums, yet even at a young age, Tuyen managed to keep everyone in line. Towards the end of his life, he recalled that one afternoon we heard our dad’s moped approaching the house. Tuyen gave me a piggy back ride to the gate to greet Dad, but tripped and bled. When he recounted the story, he said, “The poor guy, after a long day of work, he had to turn right back around and take me to the hospital for stitches.”

When he was 16 or 17, Tuyen took care of all of the electrical wiring in our house. However, because electricity was so expensive, our family couldn’t afford the bill. To keep down electrical costs, Tuyen tapped into the line and would occasionally bypass the meter so we were able to afford electricity on a limited budget. Once, he connected a step-down transformer and accidentally electrocuted himself, which sent him flying through the air like a skilled acrobat.

Our house in Vietnam was always filled with cousins and other relatives, which meant countless opportunities to play tricks on each other. Part of the reason Tuyen later became such a good golfer in life was because he made his own sling shot with rubber bands and used his cousins and siblings for target practice. His engineering tendencies also started early, when he would build traps with 2x4 wood planks suspended on hooks to trip other people on the stairs. When he wasn’t making mischief, he also spent hours shooting marbles and playing soccer.

At 13, he was selected to attend the prestigious Cao Thắng Technical School. Math and science came easily to him, which ultimately resulted in him immigrating to Los Angeles, CA to attend Loyola Marymount University on a full-ride scholarship. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, and later went on to become a Design Engineer at Mattel and an Operations Manager for Thermo Fisher.

While math and science were his strengths, explaining or teaching those concepts to me were not, which is something that held true for the rest of his life. However, actions speak louder than words, and as those who were lucky enough to know him can attest, he was always thoughtful, kind, and cared for others. I wasn’t surprised when a person who’d only ever talked to my brother on the phone cried buckets when she heard the news of Tuyen’s passing. She told me that he was her biggest inspiration when she saw how hard he fought to stay alive. She drew strength from his constant encouragement, and continues fighting her own battle with cancer to this day. With so few words, Tuyen gave so much of himself when he was young and healthy and continued to give after he got sick by donating his body to countless numbers of clinical trials. His kindness and generosity also brought strength and hope to others, and with this gift, we hope his spirit lives on in them.

Tuyet Nguyen, Tuyen's sister
September 29, 2023

Tuyen was my friend. I met him the day after he arrived in the USA to attend college at LMU in 1974. We were college roommates that first year at LMU. He did a lot of things together. Tuyen joined my family for holiday meals, we learned to snow ski together, we sailboat raced, and played sports. enjoyed time with friends through the years until he passed away. He was a good person. He worked hard to fight cancer. I miss him.

October 2023

I met Tuyen in the early '80s when we were all so young and full of life. Tuyen was fun, mischievous, incredibly smart, patient, and extremely logical. He could reason through many of life problems…he always had something to say if you asked him for advice on any topics.

Tuyen did not marry early or have any children. My husband and I were one of the first couple among all the friends to have kids. Tuyen babysat, changed diapers, and certainly played with my son and daughter…. He was a role model for my kids: he praised them when they did well and definitely reprimanded them when they were bad. He was a part of the family.

When Tuyen was diagnosed with cancer, all I can remember was how he methodically tackled the sickness and “problem” he faced, and how calm he was at each turn of the disease to find the next solution. He was “as a matter of fact” about what he was going through…he almost wanted to go through the process by himself, until he came to his senses and accepted help from friends and family.

Tuyen was strong and a FIGHTER. He did not give up easily—he fought cancer face on, and accepted all the pain and suffering that came with living with the disease. I have never heard him complain, nor whine. He just dealt with it. He didn’t even say that he was in pain except we could see him grimace. I am certain that ICAN had given him hope over and over again, when he was presented with the next experimental treatment.

While I am extremely sad that Tuyen lost the fight against cancer, I am also at peace that he is not suffering anymore. I do miss his mischievous smile and all the logic that came from his personality.

Gladys Tseng
October 2023

Tuyen was a model patient. He was a member and supporter of our Exon 20 Group at our cancer charitable organization called ICAN. The Exon 20 Group works with patients in the U.S. and 72 countries, and we are working toward a cure of Tuyen’s diagnosis which was EGFR exon 20 insertion mutated cancer, a very challenging and lethal diagnosis found in very physically fit patients who have done everything right. These patients have usually never smoked a cigarette in their lives.

I had the pleasure of working with Tuyen for most of his lung cancer journey. He was one of our most proactive patients, completely engaged in the drug development pipeline, always wanting to know about the new drugs in the field. We helped Tuyen seek out second opinions from some of the top lung cancer specialists in southern California. Those top oncologists loved working with Tuyen. He was such a gentleman. He wasted no time accessing the best drug at the right time for his particular cancer, and he agreed to enroll in several promising clinical trials for exon 20. Unfortunately given the complexity of this disease, his last clinical trial did not extend his life, and the disease became so resistant that there was not enough time to get onto a new clinical trial.

Tuyen was always optimistic and inquisitive. Our Exon 20 leadership and the patients who Tuyen got to know during his cancer journey will all miss this wonderful man who was so gentle and so optimistic. And Tuyen was so very accepting of doing whatever he could to prolong life with quality of life in one of the most challenging lung cancers ever diagnosed.

We salute you, dear Tuyen, and we will honor you at the Exon 20 Group at ICAN. We send our deepest condolences from the Exon 20 Group to his dear family and many friends.

Marcia Horn
Director, Exon 20 Group at ICAN

To submit your own memory or tribute about Tuyen here, please email us at and we will post it within 24 hours. Please include your phone number.

The Tuyen Nguyen Rare Cancers Program
is a vital part of ICAN's Cancer Patient Advocacy and Clinical Trials Program Advocacy Services.

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