Blog

Nikita Merkulov
24 JANUARY 2017

Courage and Patience

Nikita Merkulov, a 22-year-old lawyer and former Podari Zhizn patient, on his fight against cancer.

VIII Worldwide Winners Games will open in only 120 days and here is the best way to get you prepared for the parade of champions – we start a countdown to WG VIII by publishing a series of interviews with childhood cancer survivors. Meet our first champion – Nikita Merkulov!

Nikita is the first face you’ll see in the anniversary calendar of Podari Zhizn, the sister charity foundation of Gift of Life. In 2007 Podari Zhizn donors and supporters helped Nikita win his battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Nikita tells Zhenya Vaneeva, who herself is Podari Zhizn’ ward and cancer survivor, how the illness changed him and what lessons he learned through his experience.

I am sincerely grateful to all compassionate people who donated money for me and to all who work at Podari Zhizn Foundation. I am alive only thanks to their help. I am really indebted to them, and I’ll be indebted for the rest of my life. So, while I still have some energy and a clear mind, I will associate myself with the foundation and do my best to express this gratitude.

I haven’t become a volunteer myself, because it is still hard for me to see children suffering.

But I tell my friends about volunteer activities, blood donations, about the possibility of help right now. And these friends live not only in Moscow but in other cities, too.

I fell ill at the age of 13. I was a seventh grader then, dreamed of becoming a lawyer and opening my own law office in order to help other people. Physicians in my home town of Ufa, Bashkortostan tried to find the reason for this condition, but medications did not help. I was even prescribed a blood transfusion, but the clinic made a mistake: I am actually rhesus-negative, but my blood was falsely determined to be rhesus-positive! So I received the wrong blood. In this severe, dangerous condition I finally was admitted to the Russian Children’s Clinical Hospital in Moscow, and my diagnosis clarified: I had lymphogranulomatosis, or Hodgkin’s disease.

When you are told, at the age of thirteen, that months and rounds of chemo- and radiotherapy awaits you, not the blink of hope, but emotional emptiness comes. To that moment, I already got used to hospital conditions, but I felt completely empty inside and at first didn’t want to fill this empty space with anything.

My, so to say, revival started after I met Father Peter, a priest from the church at the Russian Children’s Clinical Hospital. Strange as it may seem, we spoke about various things that had nothing to do with religion. And I understood that it is better when you have somebody’s company. I always tried to find him at the department. Then I got acquainted with other people and became friends with many of them.

While waiting for an admission to Russian Children’s Clinical Hospital, I heard that there was a charity, under the name of “Podari Zhizn”, but at that moment I had no idea what is was about. Everything changed after a volunteer girl named Guzel appeared in my ward. She came in and asked if I was anybody’s fan in the Ice Age show (Russian version of “Dancing with the Stars”, but on ice). I had no idea whose fan I should be, and I said the first name that came into my head: Ville Haapasalo. There was something like amazement in my visitor’s eyes, but she said nothing but, “There would be some pleasant surprise for the New Year’s”.

That was the first time I saw a volunteer. To say that I was happy would be an understatement. When you see only doctors, nurses and your mom for a whole month, even a brief conversation with a person from the outside world gives you lots of vigor. Guzel came back, and we talked a lot. She told me how the Foundation works. If it were not for the volunteers, my grown-up friends, I’d retreat into my shell. My real recovery took place through my communication with them, through their efforts to understand me.

During the treatment, I was constantly busy with self-reflection. I could just sit for hours and try to find the answers to the questions like “How come that it happened?”, “Why me?”, or “What lesson should it teach me?”.

It was the period of Tolstoy-style thinking, that’s what I called it for myself. But when I came back home, I found that other children of my age were, well, so to say, still at the level of Pushkin’s fairy tales.

I was surrounded by my former friends and acquaintances but had nothing to discuss with them. The hospital and my native city were like two different worlds, and it was quite hard to go from one to another. There were communication problems, I needed a lot of time to get used to the real life around me, I felt quite lonely. Of course, the problems became less marked as time went by, and I, well, joined the ranks. But my view of the world changed dramatically after the illness.

My understanding of other people has become more deep and concerned. I try to find something good in everyone. Maybe that’s why I became a defence lawyer. However, I have noticed that the university and my life as a student have hardened me to some extent. Maybe the problem is in the profession I have chosen, I don’t know.

Now there is more aggression and more cynicism in me. It is difficult to judge myself, but there is one thing I can say for sure: right after my treatment I was a much better person than now.

As a cancer survivor, I firmly learned two most important components of one’s success in fight with the illness: Courage and Patience. You must repeatedly say to yourself: “I will not bow to cancer, I will show this world I am worth!“ And it is also important to understand that, if there were no grief, there would also be neither happiness nor hope in our life.

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