Childhood cancers: there is light at the end of the tunnel

The NGO SANO, created by parents and friends of children being treated for cancer, has been considered an incredibly positive example in the community for years. Their spirit and fighting modes motivate all of us and give strength to those who need it most. In this edition of “VOICES,” we talk to Andrijana Serafimovska, who will tell us what it is like to volunteer in this organization.

Photo from: Andrijana Serafimovska

What your volunteering experience consists of?

-I have been volunteering in SANO since its first day, almost four years ago. I started by going to the Children’s hospital at the hemato-oncology department to organize events and coordinate projects. Besides organizing and coordinating the projects, I participate in them as well. My favorite part of volunteering is when I visit the child in the hospital. I sit beside their bed, and we read stories, draw, talk, laugh, and form an unbreakable bond and lifelong friendship.

How did you get involved in your organization?

-I have been going to conferences in ex Yugoslavian countries since 2012. When it was Macedonia’s turn to be the host in 2018, we needed a legal entity behind us to find finances. We organized a three-day conference in Struga for 50 young cancer survivors. Amid all that organizing, I began my volunteering journey at the hemato-oncology department at the Children’s Hospital in Skopje.

What motivates you to do this volunteering experience?

-My primary source of motivation is my will to help others and my personal experience with cancer. Since I was a little girl, I have wanted to help everyone. Being diagnosed with cancer at 12 years old just showed me the path where I am most needed. I have always felt privileged because I have a good life and won my cancer battle. So I have always felt the need to do better for the children with cancer and give them the support they need in these challenging times. I did not know how; I just knew that I will. Despite all the challenges and fear, I try my hardest every day.

You say you always felt privileged. Why?

-It’s because, despite all the life challenges, I have always managed to enjoy and love life. Every challenge has its burden on me, yet I feel more alive than ever. I have had a good life. A wonderful, supportive, open minded family, a one or two close friends, good education, active social life, a healthy thurst to fight for my dreams and goals and many chances to experience different cultures and things. I learned to love the small things in life at an early age. That is why it doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Can you tell us about the causes of cancer?

-Childhood cancer is still a mystery. There is no correct answer. All cancers occur when the DNA in a cell mutates or changes. The body typically kills this new cell before it can cause damage. However, in the case of cancer, the mutated cell keeps growing and splitting into more cells, much faster than the healthy cells.

What are the different types of cancer? 

-There are so many types of cancer. Recently, there have been multiple new types of cancer that have not existed before, so they do not have names, only codes for now. In Macedonia, approximately 40 children are diagnosed with cancer every year. The most common type is leukemia, which is a blood cancer. Over the past few years, there has been an increase in sarcoma cancers. 

What is the state of children that you look after? Do they feel better?

-We have only gotten positive feedback from them. It is essential for them to talk to someone who has had a similar experience and managed to continue with their life afterward. It gives them hope and strength to fight. On the other side, they are isolated for weeks, and they need a friend or someone who will spend some time with them, so for just a minute, they can forget about their diagnosis. When we come, and they see us at the door, they instantly feel better and want to do many different activities with us. Because I still talk to some children who had their treatment two or three years ago and now are healthy individuals, and they still remember me and want to stay in touch with me, it just shows how significant my presence was and that I managed to touch their lives for just a little bit.

What kind of messages would you give to the children who have cancer?

-I want to tell them to believe in themselves. They are way stronger and braver than they think. They should be proud of themselves for fighting so hard and that it’s okay to be scared. There is light at the end of this tunnel. They just need to endure it. The best of life is yet to come. 

How can people contact this organization?

-They can reach us at our Facebook page SANO and Instagram Every time we have new projects, and we need volunteers, we post that publicly. Anyone who wants can contact us. 

What are your plans for the future?

-For now, I want to do as much as possible to better the conditions and quality of life for the children with cancer and young cancer survivors. But I also want to get a master’s degree in social work or management, and maybe a doctorate afterward. I would also like to live abroad for at least a year, experience a new culture, learn new things and meet new people. I love countries with history like for example, Istanbul is my favorite city. I would always go back there. I want to live in either Barcelona or Prague. Both cities have a fascinating history and cultural landmarks that I would like to visit every day. 

What are the reactions of the outside volunteers? How do they feel?

-Volunteering at the Children’s Hospital is an outstanding humanitarian and fulfilling experience for everyone. Spending at least 30 minutes 2 times a week with a sick child who doesn’t want anything from you, just your attention, brings you so much compassion and empathy. It makes everyone feel better about themselves and their lives. You can only have positive moments. I encourage everyone who wants to volunteer and meet a new little lifelong friend to contact us. 

Yvan Barbeau

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