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.
How are you doing right now?
I’m doing pretty well right now. I live in the wonderful sunny city of Sochi. I’ve finished 8th Grade and entered 9th grade. Meanwhile, I’m spending my spare time cycling around with my friends, burning through the summer days.
It’s been eleven years since you had to leave Sochi for Moscow in order to get treatment. How did you take the news at the time?
I thought it would be cool to end up so far from home. On my own, in Moscow! I didn’t take any of it seriously. The illness couldn’t be that scary.
What about when you found yourself in a hospital and realized that it really was dangerous?
Once active treatment started and I understood what chemotherapy meant, I began to feel a bit uneasy. I was bored as well, and I missed my home. I figured all I had to do was stay in the hospital and wait until I’d get better and would go home. Those were my feelings early on.
What did you do for fun in the hospital?
We had IV stand races, painted ourselves with brilliant green, and raced toy cars with Seryozha Grishin and Artur Smolyaninov. We hung out with our ward-mates and played games together. We always found time to play. I think that in general, it’s very important to find time for fun and happiness, even in the most difficult situations in our lives; otherwise fear and ennui can swallow you up. And once you find yourself in that impenetrable darkness, there’s no way out.
The way you tell it, you didn’t see your disease as something serious and frightening.
Yes, back then I was still too little to spend much time thinking about the disease and its consequences. Being in a hospital was like a fun holiday.
But then you had a relapse. How did you react when you found out?
At that point, I started to feel sad. More than that, I started throwing a tantrum and talking about how I wasn’t going anywhere. But my parents quickly convinced me. I still remember what they told me: “If you want to live, you have to go!” That had a very strong impact on me. I didn’t want to die. So I went to Moscow for the sake of my future.
How did you psych yourself up for a new battle with your old foe?
I thought about how it didn’t matter whether I was feeling good or bad, I had to always stay positive. But of course, there were tough times as well.
What kind of tough times?
I felt so unhappy that I could spend whole days lying with my face in the pillow. That’s how the day began, and that’s how it ended.
It was Artur Smolyaninov who came to my rescue. He asked me whom I’d like to meet. At the time I really loved the “Brigada” miniseries, so of course I wanted to meet the star, Sergey Bezrukov. And he did come! He had come just to cheer me up! We spent a very long time talking, and I found out lots of new things including something about him, and learned that he was nothing like his TV character. Meeting him personally did really motivate me.
I have a clear memory of the other meeting I had. After my bone marrow transplant, I would lie in the isolation room and not eat anything—I just didn’t want to. And one day Guus Hiddink came to visit me. We’d been talking for a little bit, and it was through a translator. Moreover, there was a glass wall between us, because people weren’t normally allowed to get inside the isolation room. When we said goodbye, we high-fived through the glass. And it was as if he’d given me something. I found new strength and a will to fight. After he left, I had the first satisfying meal I’d had in a long time, and from that moment, things had started to get better.
Did you spend time with the volunteers?
The clown Kostya Sedov really helped me. He’d often visit the hospital. He and I even had a special ritual. I’d leave the ward and wait for him on the sofa in the corridor. He’d come in, smile, and always say, “Oh, hello, my Armenian friend.” And then he’d start with his endless jokes, and I’d laugh so hard my stomach would start to hurt.
Lika and Seryozha Grishin also came to see me a lot. I’d feed them dishes I’d cooked myself. They ate everything I offered them, though I have to confess I’m not much of a chef. I’ll even tell you a little secret: it was we, my friends and I, who got them married. We cooked them a great dinner, and then left them alone together. Later, they admitted that this was the evening when they became much closer to each other. I still talk to them a lot—we message each other and share our news.
How did you find out about the charity?
One day I asked my mum where we got so much money for medicine. I’d guessed that the medicines might have cost a lot of money. She told me about the Podari Zhizn Foundation, and how people were helping us. I immediately imagined people coming into our department, and queuing up to give money. I couldn’t begin to imagine the incredible effort behind each child’s treatment, and how many people work to make sure that each sick boy and girl has everything they need.
Why do you think people make donations?
I don’t know. Maybe do they notice the problems of the people around them when they encounter something similar in their own lives? Either way, I really want to thank everyone who provided money for my treatment, especially one donor who gave us 300,000 rubles. Mum and dad wanted to thank her by inviting for a holiday in Sochi, but unfortunately we could never find her.
What was your rehabilitation like?
I found it easy to go back to my old life. I went to school and everyone started talking to me straight away. The only thing is that I missed two years of study, so now I’m studying with younger kids. I don’t find being with them that interesting.
In what ways did the illness change you?
I’ve started to see life in a new light, to value every moment, because I don’t know what challenges I might have to face next. I live without holding back, reach for all the happiness I can get, and enjoy myself with wild abandon. If I’ve been given a second chance in life, that means I have to grab it and never let go. Otherwise what’s the point of it all? You have to live each day to the fullest.
What would you like to say to the children undergoing treatment right now?
Don’t lose hope, no matter how hard things get. Always try to find the positive in every place and in every moment. Even when it gets bad. Even when it gets really bad. And try to be a loyal friend, so that you’re always surrounded by people who are ready to help you at any time.