Andrey Pavlenko, leading oncologist who united Russians by telling his own cancer story, has died
On January 5, 2020, one of Russia’s most successful oncologic surgeons died at the age of 41. His name was Andrey Pavlenko, and in the spring of 2018, he was diagnosed with third-stage stomach cancer. Following his diagnosis, the cancer expert began publishing a multimedia project called “A Human Life” on the news site and charitable project Takie Dela, offering cancer patients and their families his own perspective on the disease, both as a doctor and as a patient. Pavlenko also founded and led a charity called Cancer Fund whose aim is to improve the quality of oncologic care in Russia.
Andrey Pavlenko specialized in surgical treatments for abdominal tumors, and he completed more than 2,000 operations in his lifetime. Beginning in 2016, he led the oncology department at St. Petersburg State University’s Pirogov Clinic for Advanced Medical Technologies; in 2018, he was promoted to become the clinic’s deputy director for oncology
In the spring of 2018, Pavlenko was diagnosed with third-stage adenosarcoma of the stomach. He said he could not have known that a tumor had caused the abdominal pain he had been experiencing for around half a year: He was 39 years old at the time, too young to be at risk for this particular form of cancer.
The surgeon worked with his colleagues to plan his own treatment: several courses of chemotherapy followed by a partial stomach deletion surgery. If the tumor were to respond to chemotherapy, Pavlenko said at the time, his chances of being alive five years later would be about 50 percent. If chemotherapy proved to be ineffective, that probability would be less than 15 percent. “In the worst-case scenario, I have only two years left to live,” the oncologist told Meduza in the spring of 2018. He said he had put off all his long-term plans, opened special bank accounts for his children, and chosen a successor for his job at the clinic.
As his treatment got underway, the oncologist created “A Human Life.” He posted detailed video blog entries and podcast episodes about his personal fight against cancer. Soon, the project’s videos had accumulated hundreds of thousands of views. Pavlenko also used the Human Life website to provide accessible answers to frequently asked questions about cancer and the fight against it. He said he felt the need to create a multimedia blog in order to provide cancer patients and their loved ones with hard-to-find information about the disease, thus improving the quality of diagnostics and cancer care in Russia more broadly.
After several courses of chemotherapy, Pavlenko’s tumor shrunk, and in September 2018, the doctor underwent deletion surgery. A few months after that, Pavlenko went back to work at the clinic, and in the summer of 2019, he said he’d gotten lucky and now had a good chance at reaching remission.
On January 1, 2020, however, Pavlenko posted a goodbye message on Facebook. “My path in life is coming to an end! Unfortunately, my illness turned out to be a devious one, and its development in the last two months has left me with no chance [at recovery]! But I would like to urge everybody who is currently in the treatment stage — don’t give up!” the doctor exclaimed.
Following the surgeon’s death, Takie Dela created a grant in his name that is currently fundraising on Patreon. The award will provide funding for journalists who report on the fight against cancer, and half of the money it collects will go toward supporting Pavlenko’s three children.
Translation by Hilah Kohen