“A doctor’s most obvious goal is to cure disease. But this is not the end goal. The end goal comes after beating the illness: it is to return the child to his family and to wider society, to give him the opportunity to develop normally and to fulfil his potential as a human being.”
– Mikhail Maschan, haematologist.
Within the last decade, recovery rates for juvenile cancer patients in Russia have soared, rising to about 70%. As such, we can finally afford to dedicate our efforts not only to survival, but also to rehabilitation for those who leave hospital. Many children need help returning to ordinary life after months or years of cancer treatment – time during which they had little control over what happened to them, and may have forgotten much about how to live an ordinary life.
Things most of us take for granted, like knowing how to make friends, or making important decisions on your own, or being able to take minor risks with your health (like riding a bicycle or getting bruised playing a sport) can suddenly look like insurmountable challenges. Even after your life is no longer in danger, it can take a long time before you’re able to really live.
The Gift of Life foundation sponsors a number of rehabilitation projects designed to help recovering cancer patients do this. Since 2010, Gift of Life has been working together with the Barretstown International Rehabilitation Camp in Ireland. At Barretstown, therapeutic recreation programmes enable the children to build self-esteem, confidence, independence, trust and coping skills, backed up by unobtrusive medical supervision. After the ten-day visits, children leave happy and full of energy, many of them saying “thank you for changing my life”.
Thanks to generous donations, we were able to send 36 children to Barretstown in the summer of 2010, and 42 in the summer of 2011. In the words of one of them, “Barretstown is a heaven for children. There, I overcame my fears and made great new friends. I can’t say what I remember most, because I remember every minute I spent at the camp – and they were all miraculous.” We hope that 2012 will allow us to send even more children to enjoy such experiences.
In addition to Barretstown, Gift of Life works with the Waldpiraten (“Forest Pirates”) rehabilitation camp in Germany, as well as supporting the construction of a modern rehabilitation centre capable of housing 480 children in the Vladimir Oblast in Russia. While construction continues, Gift of Life is also sending children to mini-camps at the nearby Sosny Bor (“Pinewood”) leisure centre.
Finally, Gift of Life organises the Winners’ Games, an annual international sports competition for children who have overcome serious illness. Competitors from dozens of countries come home from the Games with fresh inspiration, believing that they can overcome their fears and grow strong enough to achieve whatever goals they set themselves.