Nothing in a person’s life passes without leaving a trace, and that goes double for a severe, debilitating illness. I have tears in my voice now, but these aren’t tears of fear or self-pity. This is a sign that, so many years later, the illness still makes me mentally and emotionally aware of the fragility and preciousness of human life, of time spent with the people one loves. It’s not like I spend every day talking to the people I know about my feelings from eight years ago. But sometimes, even if not very often, I think about these things in order to remind myself what it was all for.
Treatment finished eight months later. I went through six blocks of chemotherapy, then radiotherapy, and on the 30th of December they sent me home. I was overjoyed! I knew that my dad and my sister had prepared a surprise for me. They’d redecorated my room, changing all the furniture and painting the walls bright green, a very lively color. But more than anything I was happy that we were all together again. It was easier for my mum, since I was never out of her sight, but my dad came to us on Fridays, and then left on Sundays and spent the week living on his own. He was very anxious. He lost weight just as I did, and he had heart problems, so my mum and I had an agreement not to tell him if I was feeling worse, to protect him, he’s so wonderful.
After half a year of home schooling, I passed the Primary State Exam, and then came back to school in 2010. I graduated with top grades. But I didn’t know how my classmates would react to my reappearance. When I was being treated at the Russian Children’s Clinical Hospital, they came to visit me, but I was too embarrassed to come out and see them—I was very thin and looked awful. They spent a little time with my mum and went away again. For a long time, I didn’t write to them and didn’t get in touch, because I thought it wouldn’t be entirely fair. I had no idea what could happen to me, and I tried to keep people at arm’s length so as not to hurt anyone if things went wrong. I tried to focus on the treatment, on myself. But when I returned home, they came to see me, all 30 of them! We had tea, and they told me about life at school, and didn’t ask me any questions, and it felt really nice. It seemed like any day now things would go back to normal, to how they used to be. Before the illness I had a very active school life. I performed at concerts, as a drummer for a rock band. I went snowboarding! And I really wanted it all back.
For the first year, I had fairly harsh restrictions on my diet and my lifestyle, but later it was my mum who tried to limit me, and I fought back every way I could. I told her that I wasn’t disabled, and I wasn’t a hospital patient, and I couldn’t spend my whole life as a prisoner of my diagnosis. I got my dad to side with me too. But of course, I don’t blame my mum for anything! I understand full well what she had to go through. When you’re sick yourself, it’s not so tough, but when someone close to you is sick and you don’t know what to do or how to help, that’s far harder and more terrifying.
I really wanted to go back to my ordinary life, but it didn’t all go my way. In hospital, you see things very differently. You develop values you didn’t have before. That’s why at first I got very irritated when my girlfriends started talking about some idiotic problems with school or boys. How could you even call something like that a problem? I felt like an adult woman at 16, grown wise with experience, and it seemed like the girlish troubles and sorrows they could go through were forever beyond me. Like I was a completely different kind of person who knew what really mattered in life and what wasn’t worth worrying about. But a year passed, and I started talking about the very same things! And everything went back to how it should be. I think it was a sign that I’d recovered from the illness psychologically. I started to be concerned with things other than my health, and I started to think about not just how to get better, but what I should wear to the party tomorrow.
Illness can turn even a little child into an adult. I developed a different system of values, and the most important things in it are life, friends and family. I think I must have become stronger. But I don’t divide my life into two parts—before and after the illness. Life goes on, and the illness was a trial given to me, for reasons I don’t know. Perhaps it prepared me for challenges that still lie ahead.