The illness had made me stronger
Masha Skrypnik, 18, shares an inspiring story of recovery from leukaemia. The girl is a person of month February and our “alumnus” of the Podari Zhizn jubilee calendar project.
Masha feels much more confident as a camera operator than as a model. Because Masha is a future camerawoman, currently a student of the Institute of Television. Everything started from photography, the most common hobby and occupation of teenage hospital patients. Seven years ago, Masha fell ill with leukaemia. 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 camera operator.” 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.
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 – enought for not only for themselves but for their child as well.
Gift of Life thanks all donors and friends of the charity for their invaluable support. Together we give children and young adults like Masha a better chance to beat cancer. To keep helping, please visit our Donate page.