“Finding Faith and Hope” – Recognizing National Caregiver Month

My name is Nadya and I would like to share my story with you with the hope that I can spread awareness of early onset colon cancer and the critical role caregivers play in a patient’s cancer journey.

I am in the process of writing a book which I hope to publish. It is called Finding Faith and Hope. The title comes from my name and that of my sister Vera. My sister’s name in Russian means faith and my name means hope.

The book will tell the story of how we “found” each other through the same orphanage, grew up as friends not knowing we were sisters, were adopted by the same parents, and went on to live wonderful lives together as sisters and best friends. To this day I remain hopeful that I will honor Vera with a long, wonderful life.

I first met my twin sister Vera at an orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia. Surprisingly we did not know we were sisters. We were adopted at the age of 5 years old and moved to the States with our loving family.

Vera was just 25 years old when she was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer on April 20, 2015. She had shown a few signs of symptoms: abdominal pain, bloating and blood in her stool. After several months of tests to rule out other diseases and cancers they ended up finding two liters of fluids in her stomach and determined her devastating diagnosis. We all thought it was a horrible dream, when in reality it was not. Her official diagnosis was signet ring cell cancer. Vera fought through her last days. Her courageous heart gave it all she had. After just eight months she passed away peacefully on December 29, 2015. She was 26 years old.

The overall experience of being a caregiver is a tough one to handle at any age but when you are so young it is very tough. Vera had her whole life ahead of her and that’s what really hit me and continues to affect me, even today. I remember my sister being diagnosed like it was yesterday. Being a twin and having one twin diagnosed at such a young age, you feel a bit guilty that it happened to your other half. We were in shock as a family and I had a roller coaster of emotions to deal with as well as a deep fear that I had colon cancer too. I did get tested and I was okay.

Despite the fact that our story does not have a happy ending, there were many good times we shared during those months of Vera’s illness. Being twins you have a special bond and can’t really get any closer but we did get even closer throughout her journey and it brought out the best in me. I was always there to support her even on my worst days. We had an agreement that I would never visit her on bad days in the hospital because she didn’t want me to feel bad. I think that’s a huge part of why I did so well through her journey because most people would drop their lives to help. Vera wanted me to take care of myself as well as I took care of her. I know my sister didn’t want me to stop going to work, nannying, and coaching. Coaching kept me going through this very difficult time. It was a good distraction that my family and friends could participate in. We played soccer, our favorite sport, together when Vera could still play, and that was a great outlet for all of us.

As a caregiver I made sure that my sister had whatever she needed, whether she just needed a chat, a simple fast food meal, to play soccer, or a car ride to blast her music, I was there. I was her rock, her happy twin when she had some of her worst days, and that’s the best part about being a twin. You always have someone there for you. On the other hand, it was tough for me to be there for her and stay positive and composed – because it’s tough to witness your loved one’s painful journey – but you make the best out of it. That is what some people do realize and do not realize, sometimes it’s the caregiver who has the toughest spot in the situation. However, I did feel I had an incredible amount of support and I still feel that way to this day.

Looking back I know going through the loss of my sister was and is tough especially with the outcome we had.Vera was a beautiful person inside and out. Her personality was amazing. She was so strong throughout her journey. I cannot tell you how proud I was of her.

The loss of someone so special hurts you forever but I know she would want me to live for her and be happy. I’ve raised thousands of dollars for organizations like the Colon Cancer Foundation, the Colon Cancer Alliance, and Cancer Care in honor of her courage.

I continue to share her memories, her essence, and her story. I have shared her story in as many ways as possible including appearances on local television stations. The two most critical points that I want to communicate are the following:

1) Cancer does not discriminate in age. If you have the signs, go get checked.

2) You are not alone. I am not alone and together we will fight this disease until there is a cure.