Yana Zaimenko
21 AUGUST 2017

I realised that I just really wanted to live!

Luckily for 29-year-old Yana Zaimenko, our success story heroin in August, lymphoma is a matter of the past. Read on to find out what has happened in Yana’s life since recovery, what she remembers of her illness, how she lives now and why she considers herself a “grown-up, stern lady”.

What are you doing these days? Why is your gaze so serious and so stern?

You’re spot-on about the seriousness! I’m working in the Istrinsky District administration, in the land leasing department. I have a big and clever job where I, a grown-up, stern lady, do very serious business.

In 2009, you weren’t a “grown-up, stern lady” yet. You were a third-year ecological engineering student and then your life was disrupted by illness. Is that right?

That’s right. I was a young, pretty student full of life. I loved to follow fashion, dress up, go to plays and concerts, hang out with friends and go on dates. Then all of a sudden everything changed. I started to get tired very quickly. I’d come home from the institute and pick up a book or go to bed. Then my teeth started aching. So I’d go see dentist after dentist, physician after physician… It was deeply draining both mentally and physically. Finally, I got a diagnosis at the Botkin Hospital: “Burkitt’s lymphoma”. It was horrifying!

The doctor in charge of me, Alexei Vadimovich Pshokin, told me up front what I would have to go through. I remember vividly how in that moment I realised that I just really wanted to live. I didn’t think about what I’d have to do in order to achieve that, or how. I just had to reach my goal. I wanted to continue to be with my family.

How did they react to your illness?

My sudden illness was shocking for both my parents and my brother. Everyone wept. My mother fell into this strange state where she stopped feeling any emotions. She recalls how she only saw one objective in front of her—saving her child. She threw everything else aside. I remember how she offered me some very insightful words then about how our soul knows what will happen to it in advance, and is prepared for the blows fate deals. My relatives and loved ones supported me greatly in my struggle with the disease, and I did my best to support them.

You were 22 at the time, so you were in the “young adult” category—it wasn’t your parents in the ward with you but other young patients like you. What did you do with your spare time?

I was lucky that I was surrounded by young people. We developed our own vibrant little life, our own story, and it was no less active than that of normal people. We’d go for walks around the hospital, play cards, argue, laugh and even fight. Of course, the pace of your life is completely different in hospital. Instead of ordinary activities and concerns you have none-too-pleasant treatments and an exact timetable. But life always finds a way. No matter what, people want to live, feel emotions and be happy. Even while fighting cancer.

How did you encounter the Podari Zhizn Foundation?

We’d often get visits from the foundation, but I felt rather hostile towards them. For the first month, I didn’t need anyone but my loved ones. But bit by bit, the volunteers managed to become part of my life. And, you know, that life gained new colour with their arrival! It was because they didn’t come to feel sorry for me, they came to chat and have a good time. The Podari Zhizn Foundation itself did a great deal for me. It didn’t just heal my body but my soul. In my notebook I still have the phone numbers for everyone who was with me. Sometimes we write to each other, send good wishes on special occasions, and keep an eye on people’s personal lives through VKontakte.

What part does charity play in your life today?

I really want to help people. Everyone in our little town knows what happened to me, and I often get requests from acquaintances, and acquaintances of acquaintances, who are faced with difficulties and need to know where to start, what to do, where to go. Everyone’s afraid of being left alone with their disease. I share my experience, give suggestions, and, of course, get in touch with my dear doctor in charge. I think even during the first year after my treatment I spent less time thinking and talking about what happened than I do now. Sometimes I wonder whether I should start organising something helpful here in Istra. I’m curious to see if I could find like-minded people. Obviously, it would be quite a challenge to do on my own.

How long did it take you to return to your previous life after hospital?

The way it played out is that I was released from hospital in winter, but I only had to go back to university in autumn. That half-year was a real rehabilitation for me: I was able to pull myself together, forget about medicines and treatments, build strength and dive into my studies with new energy. But if I’m honest, that was also the hardest time for me. First of all, I was paranoid—every bit of ill health made me think my life was over. It took me a long time to get my head around the fact that normal people can fall down or get injured too, and that it’s not a big deal for them or me. Secondly, I was very anxious and impatient. I wanted everything, and as soon as possible. I felt like after I’d gone through all this, my life should sort itself out without any effort. I’d immediately get my degree, marry a millionaire, and get all the other joys of life handed to me on a plate. But it turned out that I had to keep living and fighting for what I wanted: gradually recover, study, take exams. It turned out to be long-term, demanding work. And for some reason I didn’t even find love straight away, who’d have thought it?

But did you find your prince in the end?

Fortunately, yes! I got married and I have a wonderful husband! He knows about my past, but doesn’t give me a free pass. You know, sometimes you want to exploit your past for your own benefit. But ever since we met, my husband’s treated me like as an able-bodied person because I’m healthy. Meaning I have to live up to the standards of an able-bodied person. And my parents, incidentally, have also always followed that policy. And I’m very grateful to them for it.

Do you ever give yourself a break in certain situations?

No, I don’t give myself breaks either. I can’t say that my illness interferes with my life today, or the reverse, that it’s given me something special, something supernatural. But it did, of course, help me become the person I am today. I’ve always been a goal-oriented person in principle, but after everything I’ve been through, I’ve started to value life more. I still have a feeling deep down that I can’t get enough of this life. Right now, I have no limits at all. I’ve stopped setting them for myself. If I’ve beaten cancer, then I can overcome any challenge, conquer any height and succeed at anything I do. No barriers exist for me anymore.

Do you have a hobby, something you’re really into?

In my spare time I play sports. I go to the gym three times a week, set myself goals and gradually work towards them. I’ve also learned to snowboard and I try to go to the mountains every winter to train.

What would you wish the children fighting for their lives right now?

Want to live. Don’t abandon that desire no matter what. As long as you want to live, you’ll find the strength for everything you need.

Gift of Life thanks all donors and supporters! Together we give children and young people like Yana a better chance to beat cancer. Please, donate now.