Sierra Katryniuk: too young… too wise

Sierra Katryniuk has the heart of a lion. This is metaphoric, yes, but also, it’s true. There is no other way to explain her astounding courage and bravery in the face of profound adversity.

At the tender age of 24, Sierra was diagnosed with breast cancer. The news came just two months after she and her family had suffered the sudden and tragic loss of her younger brother. Her family was in what she calls “survival mode,” and Sierra, a bright young woman working as a health care aide and pursuing a career in nursing, was in no place to deal with this monumental blow.

But there was no way around it, so Sierra summoned her lioness heart and somehow managed to put one foot in front of the other and wade through the treacherous waters. She found courage to face the decisions, cope with the uncertainty, and, with her sister’s help, to research treatment options that later became choices she would “fight for.”

“I had this lump for over two years but my doctor thought it was nothing. I had fibrous breasts like my mother. Then it got bigger and it was itchy and painful. I went in to see if I could just have it removed, even if it was just a cyst. That’s when they ordered an ultrasound, then a biopsy, then the mammogram that they would not let me have earlier because they said I was too young,” she said.

Too young indeed.

Too young for the harsh news that she had breast cancer. Too young to have to advocate for a double mastectomy when her surgical oncologist recommended a lumpectomy or a single mastectomy. Too young to be recovering from double mastectomy surgery – celebrating the success of clear margins and clear nodes – in the process of reconstruction – only to find a new lump at the site of the incision.

“I really thought it had to be scar tissue. When I went in for my next appointment, I asked the doctor to have a look,” said Sierra. “I couldn’t believe it when they did another biopsy and it was the same cancer – again!” Even with both breasts removed, Sierra, now 25, was facing a whole new regime of treatment including harsh chemotherapy and many rounds of radiation. More time off work. More uncertainty.

Another massive hiccup in her young precious life.

Wellspring

Around this time, Sierra met another young breast cancer survivor who told her about Wellspring.

“Sometimes it’s hard to jump into random stuff with strangers, but I found Wellspring different – easy to navigate right from the start. The people were amazing,” said Sierra.

Over the next few months, Sierra took several programs, including creative journaling, yoga, art, exercise, meditation, and Money Matters. She looked forward to the peer support calls and made friends with other young adult cancer survivors. She found the programs soothing and helpful, and she also found solace in her ritual of claiming physical space at her cherished community.

“Once the centre near me reopened, I wanted to be there all the time. I still do. So even if I’m not in a program, I go to Wellspring and sit on the patio and paint or listen to music – I call it my little safe haven.”

It’s too early to ‘give back’ but that doesn’t stop this gung-ho lion-hearted member from trying.

“I keep saying to them – I want to volunteer at Wellspring – I know a lot about cancer now! I might be able to help others!” she said. But Wellspring holds fast to the rule that, members – those living with cancer – should just enjoy the programs and focus on their own wellness. Volunteering at Wellspring is for the days when cancer is in the rear-view mirror.

Even though she is still in the throes of cancer recovery, Sierra has already made space for streams of optimism to light her path.

“Wellspring has restored my life. Thanks to them, I’m finding my way thought this with the best support possible. This has changed my whole perspective about cancer. It sucks to be apart of the cancer community – but on the other hand it’s really an amazing community. It blows my mind that Wellspring can offer all these things for free – in that way I feel lucky,” she said.

Sierra has made a strong proclamation for the days when this is all behind her, and she returns to a career she is passionate about.

“When I get back to my field, I will actively promote Wellspring! I’ll be the best advocate there is!”

Sierra’s reflections on having cancer in her 20s

“I really think cancer has changed my outlook. I’ve worked in healthcare for awhile now – mainly working in palliative care. Having cancer has made me realize that I can turn this experience around and make it a benefit in my life and impact others positively. For example, I will be more compassionate when people say they have pain. I will know what they’re talking about when they say they are nauseous. I really think this is going to help me in my healthcare journey. I can’t wait to continue that path.” – Sierra Katryniuk

12 Comments

  1. Sierra your grace and presence is a game changer at Wellspring. We are so fortunate that you’ve found us. Your positivity is contagious and I thank you for sharing that with all of us. Never change.

  2. Sierra!! It was so awesome for me to read this and see your beautiful face. You are so inspiring and I love to hear of your ongoing connection with Wellspring. Keep offering your brand of light and love into the world 🙂

  3. Sierra, what a privilege to have met you and your mischiefs- you know what i mean 🙂 – that make me lough out loud loud!!! keep up the good work, and see you very soon.

  4. Sierra, thank you for sharing your cancer journey with our Wellspring members and the public. Bravo! Your story of recovery is uplifting.

    Continue to take our programs as long as needed. When it’s time, there will be opportunities to volunteer. The rewards are immeasurable.

    With gratitude, from an eight year volunteer of Wellspring Alberta. Marilyn O

  5. Inspired by you! Thank you for sharing your story with us.
    C.M.

  6. Your journey is super-inspiring for anyone living with cancer, especially young adults. I hope you get back to your healthcare career soon. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Such a powerful and inspiring story, Sierra! Thank you for sharing it and for showing us how you focused on positivity amidst tragedy. Wellspring is indeed a haven. I am so glad that you are reaping its benefits and that you are part of this precious community.

  8. Sierra, I have had the pleasure of meeting you twice, and both times I was impressed by your positive spirit, grace, humour and uplifting energy. Now that I have read your story, I am even more astounded.
    I am so pleased Wellspring has been a sanctuary for you. Please know your presence is also a gift to Wellspring and all you meet.

  9. You Sierra are in inspiration to all young ladies in your position. Keep it up Sweetheart ! Luv ya ❤️

  10. Wishing you continued lioness strength and courage Sierra. Your experience , new found knowledge and wisdom coupled with compression and empathy WILL make a profound and positive influence on the lives of others… that’s the silver lining to the dark cloud of cancer you have battled ferociously! You are a hero!

  11. My lovely, you are such an amazing person and you are a blessing to have in this world.

  12. What an inspiring story – an inspiring person! And Thank You for sharing your story. I hope it will be discovered by others – especially young people – who are also facing this adversity. Yes – I, too, am glad you told your story. And I am an older person.


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