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.