Genuine Suffering

Last winter I succumbed–I developed problems which I think are called cancer-phobia. The fear of getting cancer. People say it happens to hospice volunteers. I had panic attacks, I would wake up at night from simple colic and wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again, thinking terrible thoughts. Then I’d frantically pace down the corridor, pinch and prod myself everywhere, and cry. I found it hard to breathe, I inhaled air as if oxygen were shut off. I was shaking, and I was finding symptoms of every disease imaginable. If I had an unexpected bruise, which is normal since I’m active in sports so I don’t always notice being hit, I started to wonder. I couldn’t do normal things–writing, reading, having a conversation. I remember how we got acquainted with Nina in a hospice who had a lump on her hand which then grew and consumed the hand, which was amputated, and then the rest of her. We got acquainted, and several days later she died in pain. This lump remained in my head–an ordinary lump which killed a human being.

This is one of the most difficult problems we encountered in the course of our aid effort. We’ve buried many of the people we care for in the last three and a half years, which is very hard on us–you are helping people for years, knowing they have no chance. One has to look them in the eye, after all. And it’s difficult to do, knowing they have little time left. It’s difficult to pretend that next year they’ll watch their child pass exams, it’s difficult to ask how they are doing. It’s difficult to watch women lose their minds, knowing their children will be completely alone, without fathers and relatives.

But we continue to help.

Our Lilya.

Наша Лиля.


Lilya got cancer right before the war, and instead of getting treatment she was hiding in cellars from shells. Her house was in Lugansk, in the part that was heavily shelled. Lilya lost precious time, she had advanced cancer and the doctors gave her a month to live. But she needed some observation. Moreover, the family could not afford anything.

Lilya lives alone with her son, she can’t walk or take care of herself. She requires medications, diapers. There’s nobody to wash them, and one also has to eat and there’s no money for that either. The son is growing, he too needs assistance. He lived through the shelling, now his mother is wasting away. He’s in a rehab center where psychiatrists are working with him, he’s studying, but…

We got Lilya into a cancer hospice and she spent 4 months there, against all rules. Usually people there can stay for up to a month.


She was sent home, and we talking to a neighbor who was paid to help her, for about a moth and a half. Then she too gave up. “It’s very hard, psychologically, I can’t go on.” I understand her perfectly.
Our friends continually bring Lilya what she needs, all thanks to your help. The photos show our work over the course of several months.

Then we got in touch with a hospice in Novosvetlovka which admitted her. Not a cancer hospice, though, so it doesn’t have the necessary medications.

Zhenya writes: “They gave her a nice room, two beds, opposite of the desk. Easy to call the nurse. But…There’s no cell service, no TV service. We’ve tried to set up the antenna for two hourse, no success.”
We’ll try to get her into the Lugansk cancer hospice again, but the odds are against us.
They are heavily overloaded, people are in beds in corridors, there’s a long waiting list. Sometimes people die before being admitted. There’s nothing one can do about that…


After the move, Lilya’s mood deteriorated. She gained weight in the Lugansk hospice. Last time I saw her, she was in a combative mood, gave orders, told stories, smiled and laughed and all of our jokes.
Zhenya talked to the cancer ward director, wanting to find out what to do ho help. She responded–don’t torture her. Lilya complains her body is “like stone”, crushing her chest and muscles. They asked the director–“is that what we think it is?”. “Undoubtedly–cancer everywhere.”


Lilya is fading away. The director asked for a number to call, just in case. But there is no number to call. So Zhenya gave his.
Lilya has nobody else left.


This is Anzhela. We also met her in the hospice. She has female trouble–everything was cut off. She lost a lot of weight and her hemoglobin dropped. We brought her food, medications in order to increase the blood iron level. We also paid for a scan which unfortunately found small formations.
The cancer clinic refused to treat her, due to low weight and poor hemoglobin. But the doctors likely think treatment would be useless. We were called by the daughter, who cried and told us she sold everything she could to pay for the treatment.

And this is Tanya.
Completely alone, no husband, one young son, no relatives, a tiny pension. Six chemos in a year. There was hope, but not there are metastases in the lymph nodes. Her hand is like a stone–the growths are there too. There’s no point in operating.


Nobody has told her directly the true state of affairs.
Tanya is awesome. In spite of everything, she’s not surrendering, she’s fighting and hoping.
She planted dill in her garden.
Tries to not even think about her illness.

I would like to say one more thing, perhaps a banal one, perhaps for one hundredth time, but–live your life to the fullest. Don’t think up problems. Life is so short, and anything can happen at any moment. We spend so much energy on unnecessary emotions. We simply understand what genuine suffering is. I say “we”, because it also concerns me.

Big, no, huge thanks and a low bow from all of us to those who participate in our aid effort, who continue to read me, and who reads these posts to the end. I don’t know if I would be able to read something like this. It’s not simply difficult, it knocks your feet from under you. Such pain.
Please label contributions specifically intended for “our girls”, as Zhenya calls them, “Cancer”. But I want to say that even if nobody contributes anything, we won’t abandon them.

If you want to join the aid effort for the people of the Donbass, please write me in person through LiveJournal, facebookV Kontakte, or email: littlehirosima@gmail.com. Paypal address: littlehirosima@gmail.com.

Хочу сказать одно, пусть банальное, пусть в сотый раз, но – живите полной грудью. Не придумывайте проблем. Жизнь так коротка и в любой момент может произойти что угодно. Мы так много тратимся на ненужные эмоции и переживания. Мы просто не понимаем, что такое настоящее горе. Я говорю “мы”, потому что это и про меня.

Ira had left us

No miracle happened.
Always with a beaming smile, head raised high, and a guitar in her hands–Ira was a real fighter.
She fought cancer for several years. It was discovered during her pregnancy–she gave birth to a daughter in 2015, and was immediately sent to the cancer ward.
The pregnancy gestated for much of 2014. You know what that year was like in Lugansk–war in its most awful form.
Then it was a life of endless struggle–chemo, medications, metastases, hospice. Over and over again.
It’s a miracle she survived the last 18 months.
We showed her medical history to Moscow physicians in the hope that in Russia she could get help, but they said there was no hope for recovery, and she had weeks left to live. But Iran kept on living, and fully participating in her family’s life.

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Happy International Women’s Day, Lugansk!

Everything in Lugansk is under a thin layer of ice. It’s very difficult to walk or drive. The elderly don’t venture out at all, too easy to get an injury.
It’s under these circumstances that our friends drove all over town to bring greetings to our girls.
These “girls” are mostly single retirees to whom nobody else will bring these holiday greetings, as they have no husbands, no children, and they are completely alone on this day. Many have incurable illnesses, and it’s not just people under our care but also hospice patients. Yes, the staff there is all women, and they are working. It’s difficult for men to work there–this is no empty phrase, in general such institutions employ mainly women.
This is a very spring holiday, a very touching one, and also a badly needed one.
And you know, it’s nice to see the smiles of our women who find themselves in such trying conditions.
May everything turn out well for them! Maybe for some not for a very long time, but even that is something! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit everyone. But I can’t imagine how our friends managed to make their way around the city.
This is Lera. She’s an orphan, her mom Inna died last year of cancer–he helped her with the treatment and with money.
Look at how she’s grown. She’s a beauty!

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Our Liliya

If someone can’t be cured, it doesn’t mean they can’t be helped”–I’ve read that phrase somewhere concerning palliative care and it stuck. And only now did I realize it hits the nail on the head. Liliya was quietly dying in her home in Lugansk, of terminal cancer. Her legs gave out and there was nobody left to help. Nobody needed her. She was taking care of a 14-year-old son whom she forbade to change her diapers–which was understandable.
Thanks to you we have an opportunity to make Liliya’s life easier.
Do you remember her earlier photos? Just look–an entirely different person.
Maybe it’s not proper to say this, I don’t know, but yes–Liliya is blooming.

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“Now I’m all alone”

–It fell here. But didn’t break. But on the other side, the wall was full of holes. It was never as scary as then.
Valentina’s voice breaks, her eyes fill with tears. Her tale meanders–one moment she’s joking and waving her arms, the next her lips shake and tears pour in a stream. She speaks with such a strong Ukrainian accent I sometimes can’t follow.
She lives in Pervomaysk, LPR. She has diabetes and lip cancer. She’s also all alone.
We brought her aid and, before we even crossed the threshold, she ran across the house to show us the photos.


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Do what you can

I’m often called a volunteer, but that’s not true. I’m no volunteer, not even an aid worker.
I don’t know how to properly label that which I do. I realized that I can’t be a volunteer who helps hospice patients, the disabled, the elderly. I can write a report, can place myself in someone else’s place and write about that, go to the “front” where there’s danger. Yes, I will be afraid, just like any normal person. But I’ll get over it. But looking into the eyes of people who have only very little time left is beyond my strength. I wasn’t able to get used to in even in three years. Abandoned elderly, disabled kids, the dying in hospices–all of it kills me. I can’t.
But our Lena can. I don’t know how. I don’t know where she gets her strength from.


Carpe Diem

I recently chatted with a friend, but she was so full of complaints about everything that I ran away from her.
Then I realized I find it hard to bear negative information. It seems to make the puddles more dirty and the sky greyer. But I understood that these aren’t the problem. I will also say that banality is nonsense. Let’s take your tiny salary and the price of chicken. It doesn’t mean one shouldn’t talk about it. It only means it’s small potatoes, and it should be talked about only to the extent it needs to. Without going over it every day.
As you know, we help cancer patients. The majority of them are in a hopeless situation.
But they are hanging on, grasping at every straw. They do the best they can. They are not discouraged, they try to fully live the time they’ve been left. They are happy with every day spent with children and relatives. There’s no-one to help them, they have nobody, and they are alone with their illness.
I’ve written this a hundred times and this must be the 101st repetition–value what you have.

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More good news!

Remember Nellie, who looks like a vixen? She’s raising a 9-year-old daughter on her own. Her parents had a heart attack and a stroke right after the bombardment of Lugansk, and she’s been taking care of them every since–they can’t do it themselves. The whole family is hanging together. But then a swelling was discovered in her body, which was soon diagnosed as cancer. We’ve been helping her with medications.
I wrote about her in October.
She’s undergone a surgery and a course of treatment.
And…


Olya’s Mom

What to write? And how to write it?
One story after another. One after another. And then you sit in front of the photos and your fingers don’t know what to write.
I simply can’t convey the feelings inside me when I write about the cancer patients we care for. The words themselves disappear into thin air due to their ordinariness and overuse. And that’s the most awful thing.
This is Lyudmila Nikolayevna. Her condition is bad.
We are trying as best we can to help her deal with cancer. When people tell you that the volunteers, the doctors, have gotten used to it, it’s true. Of course you get used to it, and sometimes you are even surprised such things don’t affect you. But at some point you are overcome. Nobody can avoid that. It happened to me when I saw the photos of Lyudmila Nikolayevna after the chemo.
You have seen that woman in our reports. We regularly provide her with medications from Moscow. Because they can’t be obtained locally.
Doctors in Lugansk recently said they can’t do anything else and sent her to the Donetsk Republic Oncology Center.


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Pretty good news

That happens too. We have pretty good news, although maybe that’s not the right phrase to use when you are talking about someone with advanced cancer…In mid November, I wrote about Lilya, a woman who got cancer in ’14 and wasn’t able to obtain treatment because her house was right in the line of fire during the bombardment of Lugansk in the summer and fall of ’14. Time was lost, and all the evaluations said the case was hopeless. She remained home to die–there are lines to get into the hospice, people are laying in the corridors….((( She lost control over her legs and can no longer take care of her basic needs. We decided to try to make her life easier during her final days by finding money for a caregiver. But we also decided not to give in and try to talk to the doctors.
We spoke to the head of the cancer clinic and…


She’s now at the ward (it’s a miracle she was admitted) and is undergoing tests which will determine the type of chemo. I won’t lie–Lilya is past being curable. But the doctors said it might extend her life greatly if everything turns out well. She first has to raise her hemoglobin which is not simple to do.
It’s important Lilya keeps on living. She has a young son who is undergoing a difficult period. No father, no relatives to help them.
The boy would end up in a shelter, then an orphanage, he’d be all alone in a wartime Lugansk…What else is there to say?
But if Lilya lives for the next few years, these very important years in her son’s life, it will be an important accomplishment.

I want to thank everyone who sent money for Lilya. We are continuing our assistance, we bring medications, diapers, food, all of which she needs to raise hemoglobin. The family is broke.
We found a caregiver, she’ll start working soon. She’ll also take care of Lilya at the hospital. Cooking, feeding, washing. Zhenya and Lena spent a long time looking, one had to find someone who would not merely perform the functions but also someone to talk to. They will spent a lot of time together. That’s how it is.
Big thanks to everyone!
There’s one more key detail–Lilya is in the hospice for tests, the very same spot that was occupied by Ira where she was only a few months. We thought that’s a good sign. Ira was given a few months to live, but two years later she’s walking, taking care of herself, and living with her amazing daughters.

If you want to help the people of the Donbass, please write me in person through LiveJournal, facebookV Kontakte, or email: littlehirosima@gmail.com. Paypal address: littlehirosima@gmail.com.

Please label any contributions intended for Lilya “Lilya”.