Smithfield's Andrea Sierra to honour sister at Fairfield Relay for Life

Raising awareness: Andrea Sierra and her dad Valentin who had prostate cancer. Andrea will relay for her sister Mariela. Picture Chris Lane
Raising awareness: Andrea Sierra and her dad Valentin who had prostate cancer. Andrea will relay for her sister Mariela. Picture Chris Lane

Get yourself checked. Smithfield's Andrea Sierra would scream it if she could.


“Never be scared to go to the doctor if you think something is wrong,” she said.

“Being scared is not going to solve problems, on the contrary it creates them.”

Unfortunately she knows all too well about the problem of cancer and the dangers of not getting checked.

In May 2015, her sister Mariela lost her nine-month battle with stomach cancer. 

She was diagnosed after the family encouraged her to see a doctor when they noticed she was losing weight and having trouble eating.

A scan revealed she had a 40-centimetre malignant tumour blocking her stomach and oesophagus. Mariela underwent chemotherapy but she was too ill to finish the treatment.

“She [Mariela] was scared to go to the doctors and would lie and say she went and say everything was OK. That is why it is important for me to highlight the fact if symptoms are not going away to see your doctor straight way,” she said.

“Family members need to look out for one other. We will never know if my sister had a chance if she went to the doctor straight away. It’s important to be checked straight away if you think something is wrong.”

Andrea will lead team TOTA (a name which they used to call Mariela) for the third year at this year’s Fairfield Relay For Life on November 4 and 5.

Raising awareness and money for Cancer Council NSW are the main aim of the team which features up to 15 family members and friends.

“I do it to honour my sister and I try and do something at least once a year to honour her memory,” she said.

“It seems every month we are hearing about a new person being diagnosed with cancer. My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer and got operated on and has come out OK.

“But now more than ever it seems we need to raise awareness about cancer. As long as I can I will tell my sister’s story and support these events – if it helps one family out there, then I am happy.”

This year’s Fairfield Relay For Life takes on the theme of ‘Around the World’.

The event is calling on Fairfield’s multicultural community to work together towards a cancer free future.

June Ishtar Jako.

June Ishtar Jako.

The message is simple: cancer doesn’t discriminate based on culture. From the Uruguayan Sierra family to Assyrian June Ishtar Jako: it affects everyone. 

Mrs Ishtar Jako said cancer has long been a taboo word among members of the Assyrian community in Australia. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, aged 39.

“There was certainly a taboo around cancer. People wouldn’t even say the word. They would call it ‘the thing’,” she said.

“From the beginning with my cancer I was very positive about it.

“I stayed positive and strong throughout my cancer experience. I believe people who get cancer become stronger.”

The Fairfield resident said events like Fairfield Relay For Life helped people overcome their fear of cancer and also raised awareness in the community.

“Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Skin colour, race, religion, old or young, it doesn’t matter – you can still get cancer,” she said.

“Cancer is not something we should disregard and ignore. We need to be positive and strong.”

Cancer hasn’t slowed down June. An engineer and architect, she recently completed her Masters in Ancient History.

She said she hoped history could be changed as people came to have a greater understanding of cancer.

One thing that we do understand is the devastating effects it can have.

For Andrea there is a day that doesn’t go by she doesn’t think of her sister.

"There are so many things about Mariela that were so unique, she was so special," she said.

“She was always there for you unconditionally, she loved everyone and helped everyone and expected nothing in return. She would greet you with the biggest smile even if she wasn't having a good day.”

  • The Relay For Life and St Johns Park Bowling Club are hosting a Latin Dance Social on October 20 from 7.30pm to 12am. Tickets are $15.