Diagnosed with leukemia at a young age, Vanesa Karaivanova’s story is one of resilience and enduring spirit. Now 24, she not only dances through life but also uses her experiences to advocate for others facing similar challenges. This interview dives into her story, exploring the lessons learned, the unwavering support she found, and the goals that continue to fuel her passion.

What is your name? How old are you? Where are you from?

I am Vanesa Karaivanova. I am 24 years old and I’m from Sofia, Bulgaria.

leukemia survivor Vanesa

What’s your diagnosis?

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia

How and when did you find out about your diagnosis?

After a long time of feeling exhausted and having pain in the muscles and the whole body, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 7.

What has the cancer experience taught you?

The cancer treatment experience taught me to never take for granted the life I have, to enjoy such simple things like the warmth of the sun, the scent of nature, and the time with my friends and family. It also taught me a nice dark humor, which I think is essential to overcome even the most painful situations in life 🙂

Another thing that I learned from my cancer experience is to always follow my heart and take risks.

None of us actually knows how much time left we have, so I really want to try everything I was dreaming about when I was in the hospital.

What helped you the most during the treatment process?

What helped me the most during the treatment was the love and care from my family. I also never stopped dreaming of coming back to life and doing all the things I used to love before the treatment. As soon as I finished treatment, I started taking ballet classes.

survivor of leukemia Vanesa From Europe

What has changed in your life since your cancer diagnosis?

The cancer experience gave me the aim to help other cancer patients during their treatment. I want all children and adolescents with cancer to know that they’re not alone in their battle. I really want to contribute to a better future for both patients and survivors in my country and in all of Europe. Addressing the unique challenges of puberty cancer is essential in this mission.

After my cancer diagnosis, I also met a lot of other cancer survivors, some of them are my best friends till now.

If you were to meet yourself the day you heard a diagnosis, what would you say to your younger self?

If I were to meet myself the day I heard a diagnosis, I would probably tell myself that I will be able to follow all my dreams and live my life to the fullest. I would also tell myself that the life after diagnosis and later after treatment will be difficult.

Nevertheless one day the pain and tears will fade away and I will give all my love and strength for the children who are now on the same path.

What do you do in your free time?

I love dancing. In my free time I am always searching for a new dance class to enroll in.

What do you need/want to have a crash course in?

I would like to take a crash course in cooking. I think cooking for your friends and family is a great way to express your love and care.

However, a lot of my experiments with cooking ended in disaster. A common mistake is to put salt in muffins. :0

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

That we should love people as they are, not as what we want them to be.

What is your favorite motto in life?

It’s a quote from the film “Amelie” -” So, little Amelie, your bones aren’t made of glass. You can take life knocks”.

survivor of leukemia from Bulgaria

What makes you instantly light up?

What makes me instantly light up are the children’s smiles. Also, my brother.

What personal goal would you like to achieve next?

My personal goal is to get my Master’s degree in Children’s Psychology, which I started a few months ago.

What in your life do you feel most grateful for?

First of all, I feel very grateful for my family and friends.

Second, I feel very grateful for having the chance to have a beautiful life after cancer.

Unfortunately, not all of the patients have this chance, which is my biggest pain.

Which app do you use the most on your phone?

For sure it’s Instagram. I really enjoy being able to communicate and feel closer to my friends who live far from me.