An Interview with Christine Rudnitskas,Cancer Survivor
Imagine it's your first day of freshman year. New hallways, new lockers, new friends. You're nervous, your hands shake a little, your skin is slightly off color. You want to go home. Somehow, though, you make it through the day. Now fast forward two months. You're settled in your new school, have lots of friends. You're having trouble in one or two classes, but basically you are an average high-school freshman - until the day you find a lump on your chest. Then things change. This is what happened two years ago to Christine Marie Rudnitskas, now a 17-year-old junior at the Philadelphia High School for Girls.
Tell me a brief history of yourself.
You know my name. Other than that I can tell you I was born in Frankford Hospital. I'm the oldest of four girls and my birthday is February 15, 1981.
Think back and describe to me how you felt the first day of freshman year.
I was really scared; I didn't know anyone, except you and Mandy. I didn't think I'd make any friends. I was really scared.
But after a while you felt really secure in your new school, right?
Yeah, I had friends; I knew my teachers; I felt really good about high school.
How did you discover that you have cancer?
I noticed a lump on my chest. I told my family doctor and he scheduled a surgery. On November 1, 1995, I went through the procedure so they could find out what it was. Since I was a minor, they wouldn't tell me, but they told my mom and aunt. On the way home in the car, we all stopped at a drug store. My mom went in the store so it was just me and my aunt. She turned and said, "Chris, there are going to be a lot of people at your house when we get there, but don't be scared." I looked at her and she told me, "They found a tumor. It's cancer." Then my mom came back and we drove home.
What was the first thing you thought when your aunt said the word cancer?
I thought, I'm going to die. I'll see my uncle Tommy (who died the month before).
How did you deal with the knowledge that you had this disease?
At first, I was upset, naturally. I kept thinking, I'll be fine. Nothing's wrong with me. When the treatments began, I didn't want to live. I went into this whole manic-depressive thing where one day I would be fine and happy-go-lucky. The next day I'd want to die; I remember telling my mom one day that I wanted to crawl under a rock, go to sleep and never wake up. I went through six months of chemotherapy and 28 straight days of radiation. It was really hard.
What was it like the first time you went for radiation?
It was really weird, really hard to explain. You can't move at all. They put these aluminum block covers over your heart. I was naked from the waist up which, in the beginning, was really strange because all my technicians were male. By the time I finished those treatments, though, it was like "Okay, boys, let's go!"
With chemotherapy, you lost your hair. How did that feel?
At first, I told myself and everyone else that I would be fine with it, that I understood what was happening. But then I cried for three hours; I hated being bald. I wanted it to grow back. The wigs were horrible. I felt like everyone knew they were fake, even if they didn't. They were way too hot, even in the winter.
What was the hardest part?
Physically, the chemotherapy and treatments, plus the medication. It was like torture. One minute, you were starving; the next, you couldn't even look at food because you thought you would vomit. Emotionally, it was hard, too. Everyone treated you differently; they acted like it was contagious. There are still people today who don't talk to me because of it. It was like being a porcelain doll.
How did you like home schooling?
It was fun; I had a really good teacher, Ms. Gussman. I liked the one-on-one part. If I needed to sleep in until 2, I could. She didn't push me, but made sure that I always did something, even if it was just reading a story. My friend Dylan's teacher was like, "If you don't feel up to it, I can leave you alone for today." She coddled him, so it was really no fun.
How did you feel the first time you watched "Party of Five" and saw that Charlie had the exact same cancer as you (Hodgkin's)?
It was like deja vu; I couldn't watch it. It was like reliving the whole thing.
How do you feel about the new cancer drugs?
I hope they work. I hope that some little kid with cancer won't have to go through the chemo; I want them to enjoy their youth.
Describe your "second" birthday.
My second birthday will be when I am eight years away from complete remission and three years from my five year birthday!
What are your plans for the future, and are they different from before you had cancer?
Before I wanted to be a lawyer. After I had cancer, I thought about being an oncologist (a cancer doctor). But now I'm not sure if I could handle watching people who won't make it. I plan to do a lot of volunteering at CHOP (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia). My big thing right now is telling all my friends, if you find a lump, get it checked right away!
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.