STRONGER THAN YOU THINK. TWO INSPIRING CANCER SURVIVAL STORIES

MASHA-KUTILOVA

A FIGHTER TALE OF TWO CANCER JOURNEYS.

MASHA KUTILOVA is 32 years old and lives in South San Francisco with her husband and two year old daughter. She is a Product Marketing Manager at Walmart Connect, who enjoys drawing and dancing in between being a mom and an IT Professional. Masha is nearing the end of her chemotherapy treatment and is hopeful to receive the “All Clear” in early April.

On August 26, 2021 I was looking at my husband, who sat across from me in a doctor’s office, and without breaking eye contact heard the doctor say, “I’m sad to say, but it’s definitely Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.”

I wanted to object…but, I’m only 31 years old, my daughter is not even two years old, I just got a new job…I, I… none of that mattered because there was definitely something wrong and I now because I am only 31 and my daughter is only 2, I had to fight this, taking it one step at a time.

I remember the first person I called as we walked out of the doctor’s office. It should have been my mom, but I wanted to put that off for as long as I could. I called my best friend’s husband, who was a doctor and saw all my labs as they were coming in.

“It’s Hodgkin’s,” I said

“Yeah, I figured…”

“I’m supposed to go to Vegas tomorrow for a girls’ trip.”

“Go, Mash. You might as well go…”

Of course, I then called my mom, and then I cried into my husband’s chest, but then I went to get a pedicure because I was going to Vegas the next morning.

I wasn’t sure at first whether I wanted to share my diagnosis publicly. I definitely knew I wasn’t going to hide it, but I do understand why some people choose to. Cancer is raw, it’s personal, it’s quiet… BUT it’s not shameful or embarrassing and in most cases today it is not a death sentence! I’m almost at the end of my treatment journey, and hopefully I will never have to deal with the Big C ever again. My goal for 2022 is to leave Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2021, but retain all the valuable lessons of this experience.

I know that not everyone can compartmentalize like I did at the time when I’ve heard my diagnosis. I understand that most people would end up in tears, not in Vegas. But a cancer diagnosis in 2022 does not mean your life must stop. Treatment does, of course, insert certain restrictions, but it is just a set of steps that need to be taken in order to get your life back.

And to all those who never had to deal with cancer; listen to your bodies. I got to Stage III in just 6 months, and the warning signs were such whispers that I didn’t hear them earlier. Don’t put off a trip to your primary care doctor and insist on an in-person yearly physical examination. Check your body regularly, you will know when something doesn’t feel right. You are your best and only advocate when it comes to your health!

VIKTORIA NESEN an acclaimed young artist from Moscow. Her multi-dimentional art captures the world on the canvas through the prism of artistic image that comes out of her own associations. Being taught by some of the brightest artists in Moscow, Viktoria is a winner of prestigious international art competition, an aspiring artist, and a cancer survivor.

I’ve had issues with my thyroid function since 2014. In the summer of 2021, I was due for a routine thyroid biopsy that I kept putting off. When I received my biopsy results, I realized that my subconscious was putting this biopsy off for a reason. It was cancer. Panic overtook me. I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. I immediately called my mom.

I never asked the notorious questions like “what did I do to deserve this?” or “why me?” The first few days were scary because I didn’t know what to expect. My mother immediately found a great oncologist, she was an immense help, her composure and strength helped me get through every step. After speaking with the surgeon, I felt a sense of relief. With an oncological diagnosis, the more information you have, the better.

My thoughts were all about solving this “problem,” like any other life obstacle that I came across before. This problem also had a solution. I didn’t have time to fall into depression or apathy, I needed to act and act quickly.

The treatment plan did interrupt all of my professional plans. I just graduated and I had grandiose plans that I unfortunately had to abandon and focus on my health. That frustrated and upset me, and it was hard to accept that my diagnosis now ran my life.

When I came home after the surgery, I wanted to dive back into work immediately, like nothing happened and my regular life would just continue exactly where it paused. Unfortunately, I very quickly realized that I needed to slow down, to give my body time to heal and recover. I didn’t want to admit that I was weaker than before and I needed time to rebuild my strength.

The first art piece I created after my surgery was a portrait of my mother, I just now realize this as I look back. I think it was for a reason. She was my inner strength.

Life experiences like a cancer diagnosis do not pass without leaving a trace. Cancer changes you and your whole life and your perception of your surroundings. Following surgery, I needed to go through a course of radiation treatments, but that did not stop me from drawing again. Art is my lifeline, without it my life does not have meaning. Art is hard work and it defines me.

I think my art also changed. I now allow myself to do things with my art that I didn’t have the courage to do before. I no longer care what people may think of my art. My paintings have more symbolism, they are my poetry. I want to speak to the world through my art.

My cancer journey made me realize that I should hurry up and live! In all aspects of life. We endlessly put off our dreams, thinking that we have a ton of time. Death isn’t scary, it’s a natural occurrence. Not realizing your dreams because of self doubt – that’s what’s what’s really scary.

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