Vlad Golovachev
25 DECEMBER 2017

All problems have the same solution: caring about others

Deep, thoughtful, passionate and very athletic. That’s the impression you get from 18-year-old Vlad Golovachev, once in this charity’s care and now the hero for December in our commemorative calendar. We think this interview is a great one to wrap up both the year and the calendar.

How are you doing? What are you doing these days?

I’m doing well. I live in a village, 120 km from Kursk. I have a lathe, a forest within easy reach, and a bicycle. Recently, I’ve taken up jogging—two kilometres a day. It hurt to begin with while my muscles got used to it. Before, I used to train with parallel and horizontal bars, and those are very different kinds of exercise.

You really do love your sports! That’s a side of you we know very well. Can you tell us about the “cancer survivors’ Olympics” you took part in?

The first time I participated in one of those events was in Warsaw in 2008. The Russian team was very friendly, and during that week we were like one big family. I didn’t earn any results worth boasting about. But back then, taking part was more important to me than winning. We’d already reached our real goal—we beat our illness. I remember being very inspired by the other contestants: when you see someone racing in a wheelchair or on crutches, it makes a real impression on you. It strengthens your spirit. It was back then that it first occurred to me that people across the world face essentially the same problems, and they all have the same solution: caring about others.

And when you fell ill, did you feel cared about by those around you?

Yes, and I wasn’t the only one. We found ourselves supported by countless people, not only our loved ones but doctors and volunteers as well. They helped us accept the reality we’d found ourselves in, and did their best to encourage us.

How did you feel when you were told how serious your illness was?

I didn’t have any thoughts like “Oh God, people die from this stuff, how scary”. No, it didn’t happen like that at all. My mum was terribly anxious, but I wasn’t especially. Maybe I was still too young, or maybe I just thought that death was something that happened to other people, not to me.

You spent nearly two years in hospital. It would have been a sizeable chunk of your childhood. What did you do there?

I had a whole system. I’d spend a week getting chemo, then go away to a Moscow Oblast sanatorium with a lawn and a back yard. I’d run around there with the other boys and girls, letting off steam. The sanatorium was my emotional outlet. While I was in hospital, I was very well-behaved. I didn’t act spoiled—I was the perfect little patient. I can’t remember ever throwing a tantrum over anything.

I think you’re exaggerating about being a perfect patient. You’re the one who asked to be addressed as “His Majesty Vlad XV” and nothing else, and issued a decree for the doctors.

Yes, I remember that. I was just thinking about how to bring some colour into our dull everyday life at the hospital. I wanted to make things more fun for the children. And that’s when I decided to issue a decree in which I wrote that when a doctor comes into a child’s room, they have to sing happy songs and dance the lambada.

Did the volunteers brighten up your hospital life in any way?

Yes, of course. It was in hospital that I met Zhenya. She was the most active of the volunteers, and she took a shine to me for some reason. She took me around Moscow, and introduced me to the city. Afterwards, every time I came to the capital after my illness, she always did her best to come over and meet up with me. I was always excited to see her. Zhenya could cheer me up no matter what I was feeling, whether it was gloom, boredom or despair. I always had fun with her.

Are you still in touch?

We haven’t seen each other for three years or so, but she and my mum write to each other.

How do you see this part of your childhood? Was it a dark one?

No, I remember a lot of bright parts; I don’t remember anything dark at all. I don’t think my life ever had any tragic moments where there was too much pain, or something I couldn’t bear.

How did your rehabilitation go once you were out of hospital?

When I came home to my big family, I was surprised at how much everyone had changed, and I realised how much time had passed since we last saw each other. There was a lot of interesting stuff: I went to another Olympics event, then went to a camp in Ireland on a rehabilitation programme.

What kind of welcome did you receive in school?

For the first year, I was homeschooled, then I started to go to school. I saw my old classmates, but we barely kept in touch. I spent two years mostly on my own, but it was nothing tragic—my old friends from my neighbourhood were enough. We got on great, and I had no problems walking around with them while wearing my mask. Or sometimes I’d go out with my brother, and nobody would ask us any questions. My return went fairly smoothly.

Are the Vlad before hospital and the Vlad after it two different people?

To be honest, I don’t remember myself before hospital. I must have been young and stupid. Whereas when I left hospital, I did so with a huge stockpile of medical knowledge in my head. I learned a lot about the wider world, and came to understand that there are other cultures in the world, but, despite our differences, we are very similar—and, most importantly, that we are not alone.

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