Do you love Boston as we do?

Do you love Boston as we do?

And do you know that getting to know your favorite city can become a life-saving event?


Mass We Are - Наш Массачусетс is a group for people who moved to Boston from Russia. Members of this group went on a date with Boston and decided to grant all the money paid for this wonderful excursion to our charity.
The walk started at Quincy Market and covered all the most interesting spots of North End.
The excursion touched upon historical and cultural background of our city. It became a great chance to get to know different Boston and fall in love with it again.
We are very grateful to all the participant for this decision to support our charity and we believe that is is a start to a great, life-saving tradition.

I thought it would be cool to end up so far from home. The illness couldn’t be that scary.

I thought it would be cool to end up so far from home. The illness couldn’t be that scary.

17-year-old Seryozha Sergeev, a former patient of Podari Zhizn and a cancer survivor, had to battle his illness twice. The first time, he didn’t take it seriously; he was too young to understand what he had to deal with. At six years old, the illness, the hospital, and the city of Moscow— all of it seemed like one big adventure. But when it came back, things went very different. Seryozha didn’t want to undergo one more treatment, and he didn’t have much strength for it either. Today, eleven years after he had first become ill, Seryozha tells us his story.

I learned how unpredictable this illness can be!

I learned how unpredictable this illness can be!

We already told you about Anton Gillespie — the doctor-to-be and junior student at Harvard University — who went to Moscow to get an internship at Federal Center for Pediatric Onco-Hematology.  Podari Zhizn and Podari Life helped him to get an internship and now, when the trip is over, Anton shares his impressions about work and fun at the clinics.

"I think that my time in the hospital was very valuable for me. First about my time shadowing the doctors:

It was a really useful experience to watch how the doctors interact with their patients. Before this summer, I did not have many opportunities to watch doctors interact with patients who were actually staying in the hospital, only with patients who were coming into their offices for appointments.

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It is definitely a very different manner because the patients in the hospital are much sicker, and especially because they are all children here. And I learned that there is not only one way — some doctors keep their visits very short yet present themselves as very knowledgeable and decisive, while others are very sweet with the children and take their time to make them feel comfortable.

I also had the opportunity to see how the family members of the patient are affected by the illness. I never realized how much of the care has to fall upon the parents, usually the mothers, who have to constantly keep watch of the child’s temperature, bodily functions, etc. I’ve seen how the children react to their own illnesses — some seem very sad and quiet as if they are contemplating the gravity of their situation, while others are upbeat and become very excited by even the smallest joys.

This firsthand experience watching the doctors, the children, and the family members was very useful in helping me to understand all of the emotions and dynamics of the relationships in the hospital room. Sometimes the doctors would try to explain the details of the diseases and procedures to me, but this wasn’t super useful to me, since I am not even in medical school yet and there was not much I could understand. However, just being able to observe everything was very valuable. It would have been nice to see a few more surgeries, but I did get to see one at least. And it would have been nice to switch around more between different departments of the clinics.

And about the volunteering — as I got a chance to spend some time with the children as a friend:

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The game nights and movie nights were a lot of fun and it was great to get to know some patients as friends rather than in a professional manner.

I saw that despite going through very difficult times with their illnesses, they are all really still just normal kids, and they love to play games and goof off and wrestle and tell stories and watch Youtube videos and learn bad words in English just like any other kids.

Sometimes I saw children at the events whom I had visited weeks earlier in their own private hospital rooms when I was shadowing the doctors, and it was very sweet to see that they had recovered enough to come to the guest house for rehabilitation.

On the other hand, there were happy, seemingly healthy children in the guest house one day who suddenly became very sick again and were moved back to private rooms the next day, and I learned how unpredictable this illness can be. 

It was a really great experience!".

I realised that I just really wanted to live!

I realised that I just really wanted to live!

We haven’t been seeing Yana Zaimenko who is now 29 years old for more than 6 years, i.e. her recovery from Burkitt lymphoma. It’s hard to recognize the Yana from 2009 in this serious and stern woman.  Yana doesn’t look and doesn’t consider herself as a cancer survivor, she enjoins herself and her life, and we asked her how she’d learned that during and after her treatment.

Life is the most important thing we have. Treasure it!

Life is the most important thing we have. Treasure it!

Dmitry Belyakov recalls how he discovered his illness, and confesses how he wept as he came to understand what he was in for. Who helped him get over the initial shock? What does true friendship mean to him? How does he feel about his illness now? We hear about it all through the manly frankness of Dima’s retelling.

How’s it going now?

Everything’s good. I am sophomore at the Moscow University of Technology; I want to be a programmer. All my spare time goes towards my education. I also read a lot. Sounds a little boring, I know, the typical good student. But of course I find time for friends too. We go out, we have fun, and in that respect things are entirely typical.

One of your friends, Artur Avetisyan, was once in Podari Zhizn’s care. Did you become friends at the hospital?

That’s right. Artur and I became friends right after I arrived at the rehab clinic attached to the Russian Children’s Clinical Hospital. Artur was the one who managed to get me moving again with his chatter, his jokes, and just with his presence and his companionship. He pulled me out of my state of shock. After we got better, we were both home-schooled, so we could spend hours sitting in Skype and talking about everything and nothing. We became real friends—but not because of our shared suffering. I felt a colossal amount of support from him, and he did the same from me. Even though fate brought us together in a rather tragic way, I’m glad Artur became the part of my life. He’s a true friend whose loyalty has been proved through the most terrible challenges of our lives.

Was it hard to go through treatment at first?

Yes. I’ll always remember my first thirty days at the hospital. It was a fitness test of the mind and body strength. Before the illness I was a very active kid. I did a lot of things, went for walks, played football, crafted things at home. I was top of my class in PE. And when I found out I had cancer, I reacted in an unmanly fashion, to put it kindly. I cried like a little girl, that is! The very thought of having to spend a long time in hospital, far away from my home, my family and my friends, terrified me. To be honest, until the last moment I hoped that it would pass, that the illness would disappear somewhere, that it was a side effect of puberty. My plans for a happy, quiet and peaceful life had no room for leukemia. At the hospital I wanted to do nothing, especially to get treatment. I’d been just lying there and staring at the ceiling. I had zero motivation.

How did you climb out of that abyss?

I guess time really is a great healer. During that awful month, I found myself to be left completely alone. I knew that no amount of talking, persuasion, jokes or gifts would help. I had to personally come to terms with what was happening, and most importantly, I had to figure out how to live with it—to accept it and go with the flow, or to fight.

And what did you decide?

To fight, of course. Without fighting, without a crazy desire to recover, there’s no way to beat this disease. Besides, I was already ten then, and I understood a lot. For example, I understood that I was precious to my parents, and that for their sake, and for the sake of my future, I had no right to give up. My mum was always by my side, of course, and she experienced my all my highest and lowest moments firsthand. She cheered me up as best she could, and during the most challenging times she was the pillow into which I could cry until I felt better. I remember what I was like while I was taking hormones—a flat-out unbearable, capricious child. So I’m endlessly grateful to my mum for her patience and understanding.

You spent quite a lot of time in hospital. There must have been good things as well.

Yes, of course. In fact, the good outweighed the bad. We had a little friendly group of boys and girls. We’d often gather in someone’s room to chat or play board games. Any game played with my peers felt like it was placing our lives on pause. We’d forget that we were in hospital and that each of us had a mortal enemy we were trying to overcome with all our might. Another thing that really saved us from dwelling on unhappy thoughts was the trips organised by the charity. Even an ordinary outing to the cinema was something to celebrate. I can say with absolute certainty that these events really help children because they leave no room for unhappy thoughts like, “Another round of chemotherapy, I’m going to feel sick again… And how long am I supposed to stay on this drip anyway?!”

How did you find out about the Podari Zhizn Foundation?

It was from my mum that I learned there was a charity which would help me fight my illness. She was the one who told me how much Podari Zhizn does for people like me. I was stunned. I decided that if there are magicians in this world, that charity has to be where they work. And then volunteers started to come to my ward. From them I found out that the charity not only gathers money for medicines, but also offers moral support. Thanks to the volunteers, life in the ward became more fun. They know how to interact with every child, no matter how withdrawn. I was no exception.

What is “the charity”?

In my experience, charity is freely-offered help and support. People feel compassion for others, empathise with their suffering and try to help. Some share their inner strength, the way volunteers do, while others donate money.

Would you say that the Dima before the illness and the Dima after it are two different persons?

I don’t think so. I’d say I stayed the same, just without my former carelessness. Many say that illness makes children grow up. It really does. I became more tolerant of the people around me, and don’t worry so much about daily troubles and problems. The only thing that can drive me mad is when my peers talk about suicide. I have no idea how someone can even think about it. Life is the most important thing we have. You mustn’t waste it—you must treasure it.

What would you wish the children receiving treatment right now?

The most important thing: don’t get stuck on thoughts about your illness. Try to distract yourself, spend time with other people, smile, laugh! All this is really important right now. It will make your treatment go more smoothly.

By this letter I’d like to express my gratitude to the “Podari. Life” supporters

By this letter I’d like to express my gratitude to the “Podari. Life” supporters

Thanks to all our donors Alexander Druy from National Research and Clinical Center for Pediatric Hematology participated at the 4th Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Basic and Translational Research Conference held in New York, NY. Here is Alexander's letter with the explanation why such participation is important for the future of childhood cancer treatment in Russia.

By this letter I’d like to express my gratitude to the “Podari. Life” donors for the support of my participation in the 4th Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Basic and Translational Research Conference held in New York, NY. This conference was conducted by the Society for NeuroOncology of the USA and Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

The spectrum of the discussing topics was wide and included all aspects of the brain tumors in children: biology and molecular genetics of embryonic and glial tumors, comprehensive diagnostic and disease monitoring procedures as well as innovative therapeutic approaches. Embryonic brain tumors, such as medulloblastoma and atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor, enterprise the major research interest for us because two studies (clinical and translational) are now performing in our center. Findings in biological basis of these tumors reported in the presentations as well as fruitful discussions with foreign colleagues, led to new ideas how current research and diagnostic procedures could be improved by the introduction of revealed molecular markers.

We sure that increasing of diagnostic accuracy will result in the benefit for patient’s survival because of precise risk-adapted treatment conduction, reducing therapeutic intensity for prevention of late adverse events in low risk patients and intensification of the multimodal treatment for high-risk patients.

Problems and perspectives of precise and targeted therapy were raised in the Translational Therapeutics session. Several new substances were presented to be active against different kinds of brain tumors in preclinical studies.

These drugs could be salvage for those patients who do not respond to the standard chemotherapy or who do not have reserve for the treatment intensification.

High grade gliomas, the most aggressive brain tumors, are still a challenge for oncologists and researchers all over the world. There are not curative treatment options for this deadly disease. But past few years resulted in significant benefit in the understanding of biological basis of these tumors. We are looking forward to start performing comprehensive genetic testing for these patients in our Center. And all professional society hopes that the achievements in molecular biology will transform into finding of the key for successful treatment of such patients.

After the Conference the collaborative meeting of the Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium was conducted by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  During this meeting perspectives of collaboration between our Center and Consortium were discussed. The Consortium was represent by the leaders in clinical and translational research of brain tumors in US Adam Resnick (Philadelphia, PA) and Javad Nazarian (Washington, DC). After the fruitful discussion the directions of mutual research progress were outlined.

In conclusion it is necessary to state that participation in the Conference and subsequent research meeting was extremely useful and new ideas are now incarnating to the life in our Center.

We sure that this progress will result in significant benefit for children very soon and we see such examples right now.

The attendance of the conference was impossible without valuable support of “Podari. Life”. I sincerely appreciate all the donors of the "Podari.Life" public charity.

Alexander Druy, MD, PhD

National Research and Clinical Center for Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology

Lab of cytogenetics and molecular genetics

I didn't expect how good this Federal Hospital really is!

I didn't expect how good this Federal Hospital really is!

Anton Gillespie was a junior student at Harvard University when he's realized that he's dreaming about becoming a doctor. Before entering the forth year he's decided to volunteer in Russia. Podari Zhizn and Podari Life helped him to get an internship at Federal Center for Pediatric Onco-Hematology.  

The initial thought was - I want to become a doctor, not necessarily an oncologist. But it's important for me to get an experience shadowing a doctor. To see how they interact with patients.
I came to Moscow at the end of June and since than I was with Sergei - he works with patients recovering from stem cell transplants and they have pretty strict sterile conditions.
I have not had any official medical training yet because in the US you get the academic training first. So I cannot participate in medical manipulations. So what we do is we go see a patient - the doctors sometimes let me listen to the lungs and explain for example that when you listen lower and don't hear anything, that means there is fluid.... all those little details.
The language barrier is not a problem because the doctors speak English and as for me - I have always been interested in learning Russian as my family is originally from Russia and I have this heritage. I'll start applying to medical schools at the beginning of next June so now is my time to settle with my interests.

 

Everybody talks about - when you have free health care, clinics are really bad and you better get to a private clinic. So I didn't expect how good this federal hospital really is. The quality of care, the attention to children, the volunteers and the quality of life are amazing. It totally blew my expectations.

When I first reached out to Podari Life - I thought whatever I'd do is great. And now I see daily work of a doctor, I spend 6 hours a day there. So I get a pretty good sense of what they are doing. How they communicate with parents and what the parents have to do and go through. I see all the paper work the doctors do. In America everything is more computerized.
I shad doctors in the USA, but never shad doctors while they are seing patients in a hospital - never had this "field practice".
As for the difference that I see right now - I think the doctors definitely give more personal attention here. Here the doctor's office is literally next door to the patient.
I'll be in Moscow till the end of July and I will also practice as a volunteer - I start that tomorrow and I am very excited.
I also plan to see the apheresis - when the donors donate stem cells. I've signed up for the bone marrow registry myself by the way - so I'll see how they separate blood components and I will shad in the operation hall.

It's hard to say right now what I want to concentrate on in the future. I shadowed in so many branches and that's how it works, you come to medical school interested in one thing. But then you start shadowing and understanding how it all works and that's when you make up your mind. I think oncology is very interesting, but also the pressure here is really high. For example some of the patients have very poor immune system and if they have fever you have to think really quick — their lives depend on it.

But you also help people survive - literally. And that is very inspiring. 

We are super-proud that the hospital we support impressed Anton so much. It is our goal to help Russian children get the best medical care available, and help doctors exchange experience and get access to the latest research.

We thank all of our donors for their help. 

Galya Bolshova

Galya Bolshova

"When I get better, I’ll…” and then whatever—get married, have children, study at university, learn cross-stitching. You see, when you’re trying to deal with a severe illness, it’s very important to motivate yourself, otherwise you might just get stuck feeling depressed.

Anya Trishechkina: My illness gave me a chance to begin a different life

Anya Trishechkina: My illness gave me a chance to begin a different life

Anya Trishechkina, our heroine for May, spent a whole year in a hospital. Her treatment was tough, and she found herself in intensive care several times. It was almost impossible for her to always keep her spirits up. But she found support from her grandmother, who fought illness alongside her, and from volunteers and doctors. After her recovery, Anya’s life has changed completely, and she considers that a victory.

Sergey Svyatkin:  Illness Didn’t Have a Chance

Sergey Svyatkin: Illness Didn’t Have a Chance

Everyone who’s worked at the Podari Zhizn Foundation for a while remembers our star for April, Seryozha Svyatkin— not someone you could forget. Seryozha spent four years being treated at the Dmitry Rogachev Centre for Pediatric Hematology in Moscow, and another two in Saint Petersburg before that. Today, Seryozha is no longer running that marathon. Instead, he’s become an extreme sprinter.

 From "Podari Zhizn" ward to its employee. Zhenya Vaneyeva

From "Podari Zhizn" ward to its employee. Zhenya Vaneyeva

 It’s been nearly ten years since Zhenya first fell ill. Zhenya has graduated with a degree in Journalism, joined the staff of the Podari Zhizn Foundation, and conducted all the interviews for our anniversary calendar. Today, we share her story—her victories, her recollections… and her tears.

At 15, at the end of Year 8, I was hospitalized at the Kaluga Oblast Hospital with kidneys inflammation. I was suffering from major edema of the legs, the eyes, the arms… After three weeks of treatment, I wasn’t getting any better—it was, of course, not a kidney issue at all, but oncology. Cancer often masks itself beneath the symptoms of other diseases.

I kept getting worse, and then one day my mum saw an enormous lymph node on my neck, which the doctors decided to remove at once. After surgery, I got sent to intensive care. The doctors understood by then that they had no way of treating me, and so my parents started to look urgently for somewhere in Moscow that could. That’s how, one ambulance ride later, I ended up at the Russian Children’s Clinical Hospital, and found myself in the oncohematology ward. And I wasn’t scared anymore. I felt much worse back in Kaluga—I was getting treatment, but nothing helped. I just really wanted to know what was wrong with me and how one was supposed to deal with it. That’s why I’m very grateful to the doctor who immediately talked to me about it, honestly, forthrightly and in detail.

I learned that my illness was called Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that it was very dangerous, and that I was about to go through four to six blocks of chemotherapy, as well as radiation therapy.

The test results came and they were bad: I turned out to be on the fourth stage of the disease, not the third.  So I needed urgent hospitalization. But first they had to work on my kidneys that were in no shape to endure chemotherapy. For a few weeks, I just had to wait for the tests to come back better. Then one day the doctor in charge of me practically soared into the room, glowing with joy, saying that the indicators had finally gone up. That was when, filled with encouragement, we started chemotherapy.

 

My dad really helped me, because he told me from the start, “You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other”, that the most important thing is to keep moving forwards, no matter how hard it is. It also helped that the ward, which I assumed would have to be quiet, peaceful and gloomy, was in reality filled with activity and life. Little bald kids raced through the corridors, older children chatted, reclining on the sofas… My ward-mate Madina, who’d been there for three months when I turned up, did her best to prepare me for everything. She explained what I’d experience when things got bad and when things were normal, and what I should fear. She told me a thousand stories, and made me laugh so much. I was very lucky to encounter so many people who knew more than I did. The first two months were grueling. I lost 20kg, going down to 38. I hardly walked and I spent a lot of time crying.

But one day I was leaving the ward in a wheelchair and realized that this was it—I’d finally reached my limit, the line that must not be crossed. I couldn’t get any weaker. I had to do something, to take up arms against the disease, to keep going with the treatment and to look out for the friends and loved ones who were watching all this.

At some point I began to walk, and go outside the ward, and I started to feel better. My test results began to improve, and they even started letting me spend time at home. It gave me new strength.

Everything was great, except that people’s reactions were unpredictable. I’d go down into the metro in a hat or headscarf, stick-thin, with a huge mask over my face and burning eyes… I must have looked like an alien. Some people stared in surprise, some had teary eyes, and some tried to help. There was a funny incident once where this woman caught up to us and offered something to my mum. She said she didn’t have anything, but she wanted to help us, so she gave us a rhinestone keychain for luck. It was very touching. But then, once a man came up and asked what I was being treated for—it wasn’t the plague, was it? That kind of mocking question hurt my mum more than it did me. I figured that people were simply scared, and protecting themselves in this incongruous fashion.

I generally tried to turn everything bad from when I was ill into something good. Or something remarkable, magical… One day I felt ill on the metro and they had to carry me on a stretcher. I imagined myself as an Oriental princess. And this is great, but it’s also normal! People generally tend to remember the good, whereas the bad gets smoothed over with time. I don’t remember—or don’t want to remember—the hospital as something terrible, as a place where children get treated or where they die. To me, it was a part of my life, and everything had a place in it: joy, sorrow, friendship, happy things, and misery. Just like ordinary life.

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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.

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While I was studying at university, I kept in touch with the Foundation. When I was ill, the Foundation really helped us. They gathered half million rubles for my treatment! In addition to that, I’m very grateful to the volunteers who would come to see us. I participated in their photo project, and had a go at visiting hospitals. So it seemed entirely logical to ask whether it was possible to do some work for them. They invited me for a full-scale interview and immediately made it clear that I wouldn’t get any kind of free pass. I completed a four-month trial period and am very happy and very lucky to be able to work here. I really want all my activities, my work and my daily life to benefit the people around me, my friends and my loved ones.

Being needed, useful, important—these are my priorities. But just like any ordinary girl, I also want to get married and have children, and for everything to be wonderful!

Donate and get a special T-shirt

Donate and get a special T-shirt

Do you remember Nadia and her birthday party? To make her fundraising event more special she ordered special T-shirts that looked so great that we've decided to make them available for everybody.

These unisex T-shirts are available in sizes S, M, L and XL. Each donation of at least $40 provides you with one T-shirt.

We do have also t-shirts for running. You saw them on our friends at Marine Corps and New York marathons. If you want to order this type of T-shirt please contact us at donate@podari.life. 

Person of this month - Masha Skrypnik

Person of this month - Masha Skrypnik

Another story about our “alumni” from our jubilee calendar. Person of this month - Masha Skrypnik - feels much more confident as a camera operator than as a model. Masha is a future camerawoman, currently a student of the Institute of Television. It all began from photography, the most common hobby of teenage hospital patients. Seven years ago Masha was diagnosed with leukemia. It took her three years to recover. She had to put up with the fact that there would be no further career in sport, but she learned to wait and see beauty even in the most common things around her. Photography and the “Filming school” (a volunteer rehabilitation project of Podari Zhizn, where boys and girls participate in video recording and processing) helped her a lot and took Masha to the “magic world of cinema.”

Masha, please tell us about the new and interesting events in your life.

It is probably the best time for me now. I begin to feel my freedom and make my first steps into adult life. I have graduated from school, attended various pre-entry courses, and got enrolled into University at last. Now I am in my first year, studying to be a camerawoman. My love for  camera began from the “Filming school”.  I said to myself: “This is what I want to do -  I want to be a director of photography.” So now I am on my way to this goal.

Seven years ago you had to achieve another goal, that of conquering your illness. How did you become a hospital patient?

I was ten at the time. I practiced gymnastics at a sports club, and all of us had to undergo regular health assessments.  After one of those exams the doctors called my mother and told her that the results of my tests weren’t good. I repeated the test several times. Finally, I was taken to hospital by ambulance, and the next day I learned that I had blood cancer.

So what was your reaction to this news?

My reaction was rather unusual. At the end of that summer, our sports team was to go to a training camp in Crimea. And I was upset not because of the future treatment but because I couldn’t go to the competitions. I even begged my mother to let me go there – I said I could  just go, without excessive training. I was just a kid, you know, you don’t understand that the situation in actually tragic when you are a child.

Your treatment lasted for almost three years. What are your impressions of those three years at hospital?

On one hand, it was hard. Your look changes, and you always compare yourself to other people. I was exhausted but still tormented myself with questions like “Why do I look so different?” You feel terrible after the chemo, and when you take hormones, your emotional state is so unstable that you jump from laughter to hysteria within five seconds. But on the other hand this period is still a part of childhood for me, and a rather funny part. Before that, I was constantly training in the gym instead of going out or playing. And when I was at the hospital, I had lots of friends and lots of time to spend with them.

How did you spend this free time?

I remember I became an avid reader at the hospital, I just devoured one book after another. But if there was somebody else in my ward, somebody whom I knew – well, naturally, we had a good time. Playing, drawing, or making some handcrafted souvenirs.

Certainly during these three years there were some moments when you wanted to give up. How did you cope with them and make yourself fight?

At first I needed no special support. I was a child after all, and didn’t understand that my illness was so serious and could actually be fatal. I had to hearten myself up only before some unpleasant procedures, such as injections or lab tests. I told myself, “Well, Masha, you should be patient and shouldn’t cry, because if your mom sees your tears, she will be in tears herself. And this is what we must prevent.” But once there was a terrible moment. I had to spend four weeks on hormones instead of two, and also my nose was almost constantly bleeding. It was hardly bearable not only physically but emotionally. I didn’t want any injections, or pills, or other drugs, I justed wanted to be left alone. At that moment, not only my family and doctors but also volunteers from your charity came to help. It is thanks to them that I wasn’t left alone face to face with my problem. It is wonderful that the volunteers try to distract even the saddest and the least talkative kids, try, so to say, to pull them out of their shells. I am grateful that such people were around me at that time.

 

Tell us about the time after the hospital. Was it difficult to return to your former life after these three years?

Well, although I mainly lived at home in Moscow, I always felt that I was far away from the events of normal life. You see, I was on the verge of adolescence, 12 or 13. This is the time when new friends appear at school, when you become interested in new boys. And  after missing these three years at school, I felt like an alien. On the other hand, my classmates visited me at home during my illness, sometimes even at hospital. I always had contact with somebody. So finally I joined their company rather quickly.

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Did you want to forget about this illness?

Not actually forget, but do so that other people would have no access to this story. Sometimes they ask too detailed questions, touch upon too personal aspects. But in any case you myst never forget this experience - after illness you see everything differently, and your priorities change.

So how did your perception of life change?

I believe I have become more sociable, more open-hearted. Now, if I see a person who needs help, even the smallest assistance, I will try to help. After all, now I know the importance of support from my own experience. I sincerely thank all people who donated money for my treatment. Their behavior is a role model for me. I am also sure that my illness made me stronger. When I face difficulties, I never give up but try to find the way out.

Did your relatives also change after your illness?

Yes, especially my mother. She fusses over me a lot. I take everything easier: well, let’s say I fall down, I hurt my knee or cut my finger, but this is something that can happen to anybody. For my mom  it seems a disaster. However, it is understandable after all she went through with me.  I am so grateful for her support and love.

What would you wish to the children whose treatment is still going and to their parents?

Ignore the glances and the words of other people. You should just forget that you don’t like your current look, just understand that this is the time when you fight for your life and future. In the end everything will be as it should be and as you want it to be. As to their parents, I wish them patience and lots of strength - enough for not only for themselves but for their child as well.

Zhenya Vaneeva wrote down 12 stories from young cancer survivors. Every month we will bring you one of these touching personal talks.