Sierra Jensen - Survivor

Sierra Jensen

Sierra Jensen

Sierra Jensen

4b797a27-2b75-4685-bbcb-43d3d09a1148Name: Sierra Jensen

Age: 28

City: Calgary

What was/is your diagnosis? Hodgkin’s lymphoma

What year was it? What was your age at the time? 2014 / 26

What is something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
About a month before I was diagnosed, I hiked up Mount Temple. It was the first day that I can pinpoint as not feeling great, and Mount Temple is a serious hike. It’s the tallest peaks in the Lake Louise area, and one of the most approachable about 11,000 ft in the Canadian Rockies. There were times I felt a bit out-of-my-depth, but I made it to the top (and back!) with a group of friends in 11 hours.

What is a top item on your life to do list?
Go to Iceland!

What are your hobbies?
I love getting outside and out to the mountains.

Hiking, skiing, camping, biking. When I was going through treatment, I took the opportunity to do something that I’d wanted to do for a while and bought a nice camera, which gives me yet another reason to get outside and explore!

Your diagnosis:

What was your life like before your diagnosis?
I was a few years into my career as an engineer and living with a roommate in Calgary. I had a pretty active lifestyle, using my bike as a primary means of transportation (during snow-free months) and getting out to the mountains as often as possible with friends. Downtime was spent with friends, trying to develop a green thumb, and laughing at the antics of our kittens.

How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
I basically started to feel like I couldn’t keep up with my friends. I went on a couple of hikes where I didn’t feel quite right and was having trouble breathing, then my bike ride home from work (up a decent hill) became tough. The tumour was putting pressure on my lungs and a bunch of fluid had developed around them. Initially, my doctor thought I had pneumonia and I spent a week on antibiotics before getting sent for a chest X-ray. The X-ray showed a weird shadow and I was told to head to the hospital ASAP. Less than a week later, my diagnosis was confirmed.

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
I was in shock. I had spent my whole life being healthy and active. To have that health taken away from me in the blink of an eye was incredibly jarring. At the same time, I was fairly optimistic. Several doctors I talked to were encouraging that the treatment for Hodgkin’s was quite effective. I wasn’t really sure how to take their comments that I was “lucky” or Hodgkin’s is the cancer you “want” to have, but I knew there was hope for life post-cancer, however scared I was for the coming months of treatment.

In which hospitals were you treated?
I was diagnosed and started treatment at Foothills/Tom Baker in Calgary. I moved my treatment to the Okanagan for the second half of chemo to stay with my parents and was treated there at the Penticton Regional Hospital, then wrapped things up with radiation back at the Tom Baker.

What did your treatment consist of?
Six cycles of chemo (ABVD) and three weeks of radiation. During the second half of chemo, I was also getting neupogen shots to boost my white blood cells.

I was fairly lucky side-effect wise. Chemo and radiation definitely sapped my energy and I’d spend a few days on the couch after each chemo. My hair thinned, but didn’t fully fall out (despite my doctor saying it would fall out). I’m lucky that I have very thick hair, so even though it felt like I lost half my hair, it wasn’t very noticeable at all. In the weeks in between treatment, I felt mostly ok. My energy wasn’t where I was used to it being, but I still felt well enough to get out, go for walks, do yoga, etc. That really helped me with keeping my spirits up and feeling like there were things going on in my life.

What is your current medical status?

Life after cancer:

How is life different for you now post diagnosis?
I have regained most of my energy and am back to enjoying the hiking, biking, and skiing that I did before treatment. I developed very strong relationships with my parents and a handful of friends who were amazing supporters through treatment.

What was the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult?
Losing my independence. I had been living away from home and enjoying finding my own path in life for close to a decade. I was super fortunate that my parents were able to be with me through the whole process (they jumped in the car and drove the eight hours to Calgary the day I went into the hospital pre-diagnosis), but at the same time it was tough to not be able to do all the things I was used to doing and make decisions on my own.

What really helped you to keep going while you were sick?
The support of my friends and family was incredible. I don’t know where I’d be without them! Friends who came to chemo appointments with me, visited, called, texted, all kinds of small gestures that meant more than words could convey.

What kept busy during treatment?
My parents are retired, so we spent a lot of time together. Going for walks, small trips around Alberta and BC, reading a giant pile of books, doing puzzles, developing a few new interests such as photography. I also live in a house with two cats, they were still fairly young and rambunctious at the time of my diagnosis, so I could easily spend an afternoon playing with them and watching their crazy antics.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada? How did it happen?
I saw a poster for it at the Tom Baker and have since gone to a bunch of Localife events.

The issues:

Did you feel isolated from your peers since your diagnosis? If so, how did that affect you?
During treatment I felt somewhat isolated. I had some friends who made a point of checking in on me and visiting, but at the same time, my peers’ lives were continuing on the trajectories they’d been on since high school/university. They were buying houses, getting married, getting their Professional Engineer designations… Our lives were occupied with very different concerns and daily realities. I also found and still find it hard to build new deeper relationships. Cancer is a big part of who I am today and it’s a difficult topic to broach with people who didn’t know me when I was diagnosed.

I met my boyfriend through online dating a couple months after finishing treatment. I was super nervous to tell him that I’d had cancer, but knew I couldn’t keep it secret for long. Thankfully he wasn’t scared away by the news and has accompanied me to a few Localife events and check-up appointments at the Tom Baker.

How has your cancer experience affected your body image, and your relationship to your body?
I’m certainly more aware of my body in general since treatment. I did lose some weight before being diagnosed and in the first month or so of treatment. At first I didn’t think this was a big deal, and somewhat resented my parent’s trying to force food on me. But after talking to a dietician at the Tom Baker about the improved treatment outlook I’d have if I kept the weight loss to a minimum, I got more serious about trying not to lose weight. Beyond cancer, that has definitely helped me gain a better appreciation for a healthy body weight.

What are some lifestyle changes you’ve made since your diagnosis?
I am more appreciative of the community I have around me, and I’m more intentional about putting effort into maintaining my relationships. Going through treatment would have been 100 times more challenging without an awesome support network around me. I want those friends and family to know how much I value them and I want to be there for them when they need support as well.


Resources and recommendations:

Which podcasts and books would you recommend?
I’m a bit of a podcast junkie. Current favourites (in no particular order) are: Canadaland, Radiolab, This American Life, Under the Influence, White Coat Black Art, Planet Money, Freakonomics, and StartUp. My favourite book that I read during treatment was Medecine Walk by Richard Wagamese.

Have you participated in any other retreats, conferences, programs, or support groups you’d like your cancer peers to know about?
Survive & Thrive! They’re based in Calgary and run a few local retreats throughout the year and also do really cool expeditions in the summer. I haven’t gone on an expedition yet, but I’m definitely planning on it!

Stay in touch:

What would you like to say to other young adults dealing with cancer who are reading this profile?
I can’t understate the importance that keeping a positive attitude had for me through treatment. Or even just a neutral attitude. Before being diagnosed, I’d had a pretty easy life and I sometimes wondered if I had the emotional strength to face a big challenge if (and when) it came my way. In that sense, I found being diagnosed with cancer empowering because I discovered the willpower that I didn’t previously know was there.

I really appreciated getting involved in the cancer community. The people I’ve met and the opportunities for interesting trips and activities are all worth exploring. Having cancer wasn’t easy and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but if it’s a club that I have to be part of, then I’ll look for every interesting opportunity and learning that can come out of it.

I also try not to obsess too much about the potential long term side-effects of my treatment and all the things in the world that could give me cancer. I know some people are super interested in pursuing this information. I personally find it unhelpful and more anxiety-inducing than anything. Instead, I try to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle and make the most of each day.

Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges? If so please let us know how you can be contacted.
Absolutely! I can be contacted by email.

If you want to get in touch with Sierra, email and we’ll forward on a message!

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