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16 years ago today, Ana wrote this letter, probably not aware of the strength her words have and what sort of life-changing events her brave move subsequently brought about. Her appeal was not only courageous, but also completely without patheticness, just like her own character. Her decision to write this resulted in events that would later on help save many lives not only in Croatia, but also worldwide. Ana, we miss you every day and you will always be in our hearts and minds.
I’m Ana Rukavina. I was born and raised in Zagreb, I’ll soon be 30, I’m a journalist for the political daily paper Vjesnik, and unfortunately, that’s all the good news I have for now.
My true ‘identity card’ is somewhat different. I have been fighting leukemia since May 2005. – and this is why I ask you for 10 minutes of your time to tell you my short story from a hospital bed at Rebro Hospital. Don’t be afraid, it’s not that tragic, or depressive, all that really happened to me is life, the kind you might learn something from.
In mid 2005 I ended up in an ambulance due to chronic fatigue. The doctor that was in charge of my case kept nodding his head in concern, and although it’s kind of funny today, I tried to persuade him to give me some kind of medicine, let me go home, and promised I’d check back if I won’t be feeling better in a few days. Yup, sure, like that was going to happen. My blood screen was worse than pictures in our new passports. I felt uneasy, afraid and had this flaky idea in my head that I might have the same disease that killed the lead actress in that movie all our mothers cried over in the seventies. I think its name was Love Story. Unfortunately, I was right – but I couldn’t say the words. Tears, antidepressants, and then – indifference. I proceeded to sum up my life thinking that in my 28 years I managed to grow up in a wonderful, loving family, earn the love of my husband and friends, travel and do the job that makes me happy to this day. I kept sinking, trying to console myself with the ‘logical situation development’ until another flaky idea entered my head. I love ice-cream. Hazelnut is my favorite. I hadn’t tasted it this summer, going to the hospital got in the way. Is it possible I will never eat hazelnut ice-cream again? Am I ready to give up everything, ready to give up all the people I love? That day, scared, but determined, I started lobbying to get healthy again. I took up the challenge, and was acutely aware, from the very first day what I was dealing with. I had already lost one such battle, and losses where something is shamelessly taken away from you are something I cannot abide. May dad, Gordan, died in 2003. from lung cancer, aged 54. Losing him truly broke my spirit.
Anyway, I was in treatment for six months, until October 2005 at the bone marrow transplantation center at Rebro Hospital, under the care of doctor Boris Labar and his medical team. I must admit I love my doctors and nurses, and what makes it all even nicer is that I think those feelings are mutual. They are my big family, without any false embellishment. They make me feel safe, so putting my destiny into their hands is no problem for me.
I went through the chemo and was then transplanted with my own cells. It all went slowly, and I got a little better every day. ‘Finally!’ I thought this summer. ‘I’m finally back on track, and am leaving all the bad stuff behind’. I truly believed that.
Then September came along with the first headaches. The headaches grew into migraines that lasted all day and all night. I lost site in my right eye, suffered unbearable pain and had difficulty walking.
In mid September, that same ambulance. Again. Rebro. Again. This time at least I knew the procedure. After the lab work was done, I was told my old friend was back again. They found leukemia cells in my liquor. What can I tell you about my feelings then? To be honest, I don’t like to go back there. The hardest thing, really, was telling my family. Again.
I tried to find a motive again, something to get me going, because sadness and depression have nothing to do with me as a person. Giving up was never an option for me. In life and in work I often had problems because of this, but there’s nothing I can do about that-it’s my nature. I love life endlessly, I know who I want to live for, and I have people I want to live for. Sometimes it seems to me that even a hundred years wouldn’t be enough to do what God intended for me.
Nevertheless, I have come to a point where the help of good people would be more than welcome. While talking to the medical team regarding the future therapy, chemo, radiation, and transplantation of bone marrow from a non-related donor I will be undergoing around New Year, the possibility of going abroad or getting medication from abroad came up. This would help me win. This would help this story of mine to have a happy ending.
It’s really hard for me to put the words together and tell you what I want to ask you exactly, I know I told you ‘10 minutes’ at the beginning, but I wasn’t completely honest. Please don’t take this the wrong way; this is not easy for me. All my wishes really fit into these words: I WANT LIFE. I am aware of all the risks that are ahead of me, I am even ready for the worst option, I’m not afraid – i just don’t want to turn around and go without knowing I tried to do everything in my power to stay here among you all a little longer. The only thing I can promise you and myself is that I will do my best to be brave and happy even when it will be very hard. And it will be hard, I am sure of that.
At the very end I give you my word that if I raise money I will not be able to use I will make sure every cent is given to those who will put it to good use and save someone, like the Croatian leukemia and lymphoma society. Thank you.
I wish you a good day.