When Aliona started feeling breathless, she thought it was just a sign she was unfit. She never expected doctors would find a tumour the size of a rockmelon pressing on her heart and lung. At 21, just months away from finishing an architecture degree, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

Aliona started chemotherapy treatment in July 2018, followed by a stem cell transplant, immunotherapy and whole-body radiation. Her busy life had changed in an instant and she felt isolated during the first 12 months of treatment.

“I’d always been very career driven, so I just wanted to get on with my normal life, but everything had to stop,” Aliona said.

To help express her emotions she started drawing with watercolours and a social worker suggested she talk to other young people with cancer.

She decided to join the Queensland Youth Cancer Service’s Queensland Youth Advisory Group to meet new people and share her experiences. “The group has been really uplifting and encouraging,” Aliona said.

“Having a platform to advocate for young people and their families has given me an opportunity to find meaning in what can be a pretty awful situation,” she said.

“I’m now studying a Masters of Social Work part-time and I hope to be able to help young people with cancer in the future.”

Aliona received the good news that her cancer was in remission in June 2020 but unfortunately, she relapsed in January 2021 and started additional immunotherapy treatment soon after. She will have a second stem cell transplant in a few months.

“My illustrations have really helped me to focus on something other than treatment. It’s so nice to be able to talk about them rather than cancer all the time,” Aliona, now 24, said.

Her advice for other young people is to invest their time into things that truly matter to them.

“I’d also tell young people with cancer not to be afraid to engage with a community of people who can support you and share your experience.”

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