At the age of 21 Aliona Grytsenko received the news that no-one ever wants to hear – ‘yes, it’s cancer’.
It was 2018 and the Brisbane architecture student was approaching the end of her degree when she suddenly started feeling breathless. After months of coughing and feeling sick, a trip to the doctor revealed that her right lung had completely collapsed.
Subsequent tests found a large mass the size of a rockmelon pushing on her lungs and heart.
Aliona told 96five that the diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma came as a complete shock.
“In the space of two days, I was diagnosed with cancer and my entire life had to shift with that. I’m still undergoing treatment that ranges from chemotherapy, whole body radiations, stem cell transplants and immunotherapies, and I’m still fighting.”
A Whole New World
Aliona moved to Australia from her family’s native Ukraine at the age of 8. She grew up in a town not far from Kiev, but a world away from her future home in Brisbane.
“Moving was a big culture shock and I got dropped off at school without being able to speak English. It was all so weird but everyone was so lovely and welcoming!”
Moving to a different country didn’t mean letting go of all the family’s Ukrainian traditions though. The disciplines of hard work and devotion were instilled in Aliona and her three siblings from an early age.
“Part of me devoting so much of my time studying was because I wanted to make my parents proud and that the sacrifices they made were worthwhile. But it’s been incredible the change in our priorities as a family during this time. It’s very much a family unit of trying to support me and I’m so grateful for them.”
A New Kind of Treatment
Over the course of her journey Aliona has relied not just on her family support but her faith as well. There’s also been another way to get through the long days in the hospital and her cancer treatment.
“Along this way God’s been teaching me a lot about expressing and feeling my emotions, and one of the ways I’ve been doing that is through art. I enjoy that quiet time and can be in a place where I feel OK and stand firm in knowing that God is good.”
With her passion for painting with water colours, Aliona is now studying art therapy, and has a desire that her journey and skills can encourage others during difficult times.
“I really pray that the journey that I’m on can have a positive impact on the people around me because that is the desire of my heart.”
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“It has been a big shift in priorities, about not chasing the things that really don’t matter. Thoughts that we’re not on this earth for very long constantly wash over you, and the things that you do reflect that in a way.”
Tuesday February 4th is World Cancer Day where we are all asked to act in whatever way possible to help reduce the impact of cancer. With her cancer treatment being an ongoing battle Aliona says that the support is crucial to patients.
“I really felt the most encouragement from the simplest things – a text, someones presence or a little reminder that someone is thinking of you. No one can fix cancer, but you can be there and remind people that you’re by their side no matter what they’re going through.”
To follow Aliona’s journey through her amazing art, you can follow her on Instagram.