To the Gas Chamber I Go……

Written by Ash on . Posted in News

We had only been home from California one day and it was already time to jump back in the saddle.   Gamma West had been silently waiting on the sidelines for me to finally get the approval that my body was healed up enough to tolerate the radiation.  The day had arrived, October 22nd, the first of 28 daily treatment was set to begin.  I thought this day would never come.  Not that I want or am excited to received radiation, but from the beginning it was on the list of important things that would be required of me.  I’ve been trying to get here, but seemed to always have something come up that prevented me from making it to this point.  I was told our course would be chemo, surgery and then radiation.  Instead, I decided to do my own thing and I took the path that was chemo, surgery, surgery, surgery, six more unexpected weeks of weekly chemo and then radiation!

There are two locations here in St. George that offer to nuke one’s body.  One at the old hospital and the other is Gamma West.  I chose Gamma West based on the fact that they have the TomoTherapy machine, which I felt would be most beneficial in zapping all the areas of my body that needed a little tanning while missing my most important and vital organs at the same time.  I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing and not quite sure what to expect or how this would make me feel…..

I was seen a couple of weeks prior to this appointment for the simulation set-up.  What is simulation you wonder?  Well, its a process where the radiation treatment fields are defined (Where my tumors were located along with infected lymph nodes).  They are then filmed and marked on CT.  The simulator machine is actually a large CT scanner that they use to contour my body.  The images are then sent to a physics department who, with my radiation doctor, Dr. James Clarke, arrange the radiation beams and make a customized plan that is just for me because I’m just special like that.  I like to explain it to people somewhat like playing a game of “Battle Ship” but only with my body using coordinates……..I’ll take a D6……you either hit or miss the targeted ship and hopefully sink the darn thing in the end without missing too many shots. Make any sense?

During this process I was also given three tiny tattoos.  One in the middle of my chest and one on each side of my body.  This helps them to line me up everyday in the same position to ensure they hit the correct areas.  They also made a plaster cast of my head and arms raised above my head.  Apparently, to try and make things more comfortable and help me lay still when I receive each treatment.  Sort of funny I think….the word “comfortable” being used in the same sentence as plaster cast.  To me, that doesn’t really seem to go well together!

I tried to brag to my kids about my tattoos and initially they thought I was pretty cool!  However, that coolness quickly went out the door when they couldn’t pick out the tattoos amongst the pretty display of freckles on my chest!

Once I’ve changed into my “bat cape” that exposes just about everything I have to offer, I am greeted by the three guards below…… who make sure I am who I say I am and we begin.  Honestly, would one really try to take my place and take one for the team?  I think not!  lol  Seriously, these guys are some neat people that have been added to my book of special people who do extraordinary things to people like me feel at ease during a not so “easy” time.

What I found most disturbing during this phase of my treatment was the thickness of the door I had to walk through to get into this room.  ALARMING!!! Just take a look at the width of this dang door!!!  I asked if that was really necessary and the reply was, “It’s not just the door that is that thick, the entire room walls are several feet thick to protect so as to protect the employees working their everyday.  They can’t risk any amount of radiation leaking out of the room and exposing anyone.  The people working closing with me also have to wear a monitor on their coats that is checked on a daily basis to make sure they haven’t been exposed while helping us.  Boy, that would sure make one feel good now wouldn’t it?  I learned real quick just how dangerous this radiation was to those around me yet it was something that I was in need of to live.  This was no longer the radiation treatment room in my mind….the Gas Chamber seemed more appropriate for such a party!

The next process is pretty simple, they lay me down on a not so comfortable and cold table, put my arms over my head and away we go.  A new CT scan of my body is taken every day.  That scan is quickly sent to the doc in another room where he would review it and would make any necessary adjustments on the coordinates before we can begin.  So, if I lost or gained weight during this process they would make changes because we are all about sinking the ship.  We can’t afford any misses in my case.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They have made some effort in taking ones mind off of what is happening to their body with this beautiful Spring display of flowers on the ceiling.  My only suggestion would be to change it according to the season outside.  It was hard to “pretend” I was looking at this outside during the months of November and December.  Wouldn’t a running billboard-type display of the sales going on at the local stores be more appropriate?  After all it is prep time for the big day in December.  This is only a suggestion, but I think it’s a pretty darn good one if I do say so myself!

The process itself is initially painless and rather quick.  For me it was about 15 minutes.  Sometimes I wished it took a little longer as I usually would just get into a deep sleep when it was time for the machine to shut off.  I was asked what it does to me and the only way I can explain it is its like getting a sunburn each day.  Day one it’s not bad, day two is still okay.  But as each day progresses, the burns get worse and worse and worse.  A sunburn on top of a sunburn at some point is going to kick your butt.  I made it through about 19 treatments before my chest area just couldn’t take it anymore.  I developed a very itchy rash and a bright red sunburn that was just driving me nuts!  Anything touching that area irritated it like crazy.  I couldn’t itch because my skin would just rub off.  If I could get away with not wearing any clothes on top I would have been okay; however, I don’t live on a nude beach.  I live in Utah on Black Brush drive with the Bishop living just down the street so this was a problem.  Dr. Clarke gave me some prescription creams to help and we decided I needed to take a break to give that area of my skin some time to heal.  We initially thought four days would do the trick, but I ended up needing an entire week before I could continue.  No complaints from me!  The break was coming at a perfect time…Thanksgiving.   I’ll take it.  Going back after Thanksgiving and finishing up the remaining 9 treatments was a breeze.  My skin tolerated everything better than expected, my vocal cords and esophagus weren’t affected and the fatigue factor was doable.

On December 9th 2012, I received my 28th and final treatment of radiation.

I DID IT! 

They don’t mess around either when you are done, they presented me with my certificate of completion and a yummy candy bar!  Just what a cancer patient wants….sugar to feed the cancer.  lol  I most certainly did partake.  

The completion of radiation marks the end of any kind of “cancer” garbage for me for a few weeks.  I am officially on Christmas Break until precisely December 28th when I will receive my next infusion treatment of Herceptin.  Until then Merry Christmas everyone!

California Fun!

Written by Ash on . Posted in News

Ever since January I have been consumed with doctor appointment after appointment and then surgery after surgery with chemo treatments in between them all.  It’s been physically exhausting not only for myself, but for my family as well.  I just completed six weeks of weekly chemo which consisted of Taxol and Herceptin and have a 10-day break before I begin radiation on the October 22nd.  We knew this was coming up and wanted to just get away from everything and just have fun.  For the past four years we have always gone to Disneyland for Fall Break, but didn’t know if it was going to happen this year or not.  With all the stress Cancer can put on a family both emotionally and financially, was it smart to even go anywhere?

Back in August, a couple of friends of ours had a fundraiser for us at the gym (The happenings of August itself requires its own blog post because it was an amazing month).  When the money was presented to us, Jeremy said this money is to take your family on a vacation.  It will allow Chad to take some time off of work and ease the burden while allowing you to do something fun as a family.  We knew right away where our children would want to go and so our yearly tradition was not broken this year.  A trip to California was scheduled and the stress of how to make it work disappeared!

It was while on this vacation that I decided I would debut my new “hairdo” (key word is hair, not wig or scarf…hair).  Nobody would know that this look was not the “norm” for me either.   To make sure I didn’t chicken out, I purposely didn’t even pack myself scarfs or wigs to wear.  I was all in!  I wanted to save myself any embarrassment anyway when I rode the Tower of Terror.  Couldn’t you just imagine the picture they take as the elevator drops?  We all drop and my wig stays mid-air!  Now that would be a pretty cool picture.  haha

The wig/scarf business was getting rather difficult anyway with the fuzz I had going on and the forecast for the week was set to be a hot one anyway.  I should have lost my hair again with the six weeks of weekly chemo that I had just finished prior to this trip, but for some odd reason…….I kept it.  I did lose my eyebrows and eyelashes again, but to keep that inch of hair on top my noggin was HUGE!

First up……Disneyland!

   

 

So, this balloon is rather funny. It represented just how my body was feeling the past few months. lol

         


Kambree was made up to be a princess for a day. She chose to be Cinderella and loved getting her picture taken in the carriage. She had the time of her life and quite frankly, so did I watching her.

 

      

Every year we visit Disneyland for Halloween. We take this holiday very serious as you can tell. We were the Ghostly Baird family this year. You go big or you go home, isn't that what they say? I love that my family goes along with my crazy ideas! What was even more entertaining was all of the people wanting to take their pictures with us. The Asian folks thought we had escaped from the Haunted Mansion and were going nuts! Fun night for sure...

      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After four days at Disneyland, one day at Universal Studios and one day at Knotts Berry Farm this girl was beat. There were many smiles and tears and tons of memories made during this past week and I took it all in. Seeing the smiles on these kids faces makes my heart smile. Love each and every one of them!

Forever a Fighter I Shall Be

Written by Ash on . Posted in News

Holy smokes it’s been a long time since I’ve updated my blog.  I am one who likes to go in order, so I’ve kept coming up with excuse after excuse why I couldn’t just sit down and update the darn thing.  It’s kinda funny because as I drive around town running my kids here and there in my mind, I do blog.  I talk to myself and let my feelings and emotions out.  I told Chad last night that I wish I had a recorder I could just turn on and record my thoughts and then type it later.  So even though it’s been months since I’ve updated, I want you to know I blog almost daily in the car or in the shower.  My kids think I’m losing my mind because they catch me having a conversation with myself and the good man above quite often.  :)

I just have to tell everyone right off the bat how awesome I am doing!  In fact, I’m typing this post as my family and I are headed down to California to spend an entire week away from everything that has been going on at home….this includes doctors, weekly appointments, football and homework!  Lol  I’m coming off of a high this past week as I was given some much needed good news!  On 10-11-12 (very cool date for more reasons than one), I had my fourth PET scan.  I had initially told the doctor that I didn’t want to have this scan done until after our little vacation just in case the results weren’t exactly what I was hoping for.  But I just couldn’t handle the wait any longer and asked to have it before we left.  I’ll be honest, my mind has wondered off the “being positive” path the past month and I just haven’t been feeling as confident about everything.

Back in July, my original doc, Dr. Rupart, move unexpectedly back East in order to be with his father, who physically wasn’t at his best.  My case was then transferred to Dr. Haslam.  He is the doctor I initially requested back in January, but due to the high demand for this man, he was unable to take on any new patients.  I’m pretty sure he just didn’t know what he was missing out on by having me as a patient.  :0  Dr. H is a man who is just a few months younger than I, has five young children of his own, knows his stuff and most of all he gets my humor.   Yes, I did ask him if it was legit to ask for a handicap pass at Disneyland because I indeed had a prosthetic.  Nowhere does it say that it needs to be associated to your legs, so I thought maybe being a uni-boob would qualify me for such a coveted pass.  I could get off balance real easy you understand!  Lol

Anyway, I had an appointment on September 14th with Dr. H. that will go down in my book as one of my least favorites.  Just prior to this appointment I had a friend, whose cancer had returned, and presented itself in several new locations of her body.  She was just shy of making it to her year anniversary of being in remission.  This really bothered me…..I basically started out the appointment by putting my hands in the air, not to give anybody a hug, but to say….“What the crap?”  How/Why does this happen?  You can just pull out your little surgery- scheduling book now because I want you to take out every organ that’s inside this body that I am able to live without. The thought of anything that is just sitting in my body waiting to be seeded by the cancer cells is driving me nuts!  I want to do everything and anything I can right now in hopes of keeping this cancer at a distance.  My own mother is ready to pay to institutionalize me somewhere for a few weeks to get my body, eating habits (Alkaline diet) and lifestyle in check!

Dr. H chuckled a little and said, “Now don’t go and do crazy things to yourself like eating an all asparagus diet Ashley because your body needs more than that and FYI, the alkaline diet has been debunked by two different studies as well.  I think he could sense and see the urgency I was feeling inside.  He looked at Chad and I and said, “Ashley, there is only one thing that is proven to help in the fight against cancer.”  I’m thinking he is going to say chemotherapy at this point, but he doesn’t.  Dr. H says, “Eating healthy and having a healthy lifestyle.  By keeping your body in the best shape with exercise and eating ALL the food groups recommended, in reasonable portions, is what is going to help you fight the cancer the most. Don’t get me wrong, you can try all of these different ideas out there, but you need to let me know exactly what you are doing so we can both be on the same page in your treatment.”  He continued on by saying I came to them in January as a healthy, positive, young woman, who was on board in being as aggressive as one can possibly get.  That is what you have done thus far.  You need to know that you can lay your head down at night and KNOW you are/have done everything possible to this point.  But………you also need to know that we will never cure you either.  We can’t cure someone who has stage IV metastatic breast cancer.  It just doesn’t happen.

Insert, Why don’t you just throw a brick right in the middle of my stomach while you’re at it my friend!!!!

Ummm, did I miss something back in January when I asked Dr. Rupart what my prognosis was and his reply was, “Ashley, I am in this to cure this with you?

I was pretty much dumb founded.  Not speechless, that usually never happens, but certainly dumb founded.  Almost immediately the tears began to swell up in my eyes.  I knew better than to look at Chad because I would lose it for sure.  It was as if I was being told all over again, Ashley, you have breast cancer.  Those initial feelings that I had buried so many months ago, quickly made their way back to the surface.

“Then what am I doing all of this for?”

He explained that their goal is to give me the best “quality” of life we can all while buying me time.   Good Quality Time as we wait for the next “big breakthrough” in the treatment of breast cancer.  So many advances have been made in just the last five years and many more are bound to come.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this was why so many people were amazed by my positive attitude.  Did they know something and understand it better than I did myself?

The next words Dr. H said to me is what really made me think about myself, as well as many others around me.  I was encouraged to treat my cancer as a chronic disease.  This is now my new life, a life with cancer that is not going to go away completely so I just need to maintain it like any other person who is dealing with a chronic disease.

I had never thought about this disease in that way at all.  My goal was to beat it and move on, not maintain it!  Heck, I can’t even maintain the living flowers in the pots on my front porch.  How am I supposed to maintain a life with a disease that is looking to attack my body at any given chance?

Chad and I left the appointment in a hurry.   I was late for my chemo treatment across the hallway where my friend, Miss Molly, was awaiting my arrival.  Chad would be going back to work and she was coming to keep me company.  Before he left he took a hold of my arm and said, “Hey, what do you feel about what the doctor said to you in there?”  All it took was for us to look into each others eyes and we both lost it right then and there in the middle of the hallway.  Hugging each other tight…….we cried.  (We are supposed to grow old together and basically someone just told us it won’t likely happen!)  I can’t remember a time during all of this when we both just let it out.  Usually, he has been the strong one and held me when I needed to cry.  All of a sudden the future was not so clear anymore for either of us.

Chad left and I sat down next to Molly, who knew something was up, so I filled her in.  I was so grateful to have a friend by my side that day, so my mind would be distracted just a little.  I have some very cool people in my life who have taken this ride with me.  Since I have had the “opportunity” to have chemo on a weekly basis recently, I told Chadwick I would be fine on my own and he can go back to work.  There were plenty of people who would come pass the time away with me.  It’s weird, but I actually  look forward to treatments now.  You become good friends with those who are there to treat you, those getting treated and then bringing friends with you makes it just one big ole’  party!  I love these girls to death!

 

 

And some days when I come home from chemo I get sweet little surprises from friends like these and beautiful flowers to help brighten my day or a package in the mail from a stranger that knows the importance of the YELLOW Sunshine Bug!  These make me smile……

 

Over the next few days, I tried to wrap my mind around what I had been told.  I was in a slump you could say.  I think I actually for the first time let it show that I was scared, really, really scared.  And for the first time as well, I also realized it was okay to feel that way, show it, and let my tears fall.  I set the “Positive Ashley” aside for a brief moment and just let myself be scared for the first time.

The phrase, treat your cancer like a chronic disease……kept running through my mind over and over again.  I then realized there really is no difference between cancer and someone who is dealing with diabetes, heart disease, MS, arthritis, depression or even what my own child deals with on a daily basis, cerebral palsy….the list can go on and on.  Nobody actually gets in line to receive any of these diseases (well not during this life on earth anyway), but we all go through daily struggles some are just different than others.  You never know what someone is silently dealing with on the inside.

I personally think that cancer has been made such a big deal primarily because the one known treatment that has been proven to help is so brutal it usually changes the outward appearance of the person who is fighting the disease.  The big boys label you with a “stage” and immediately everyone knows just how bad it is.  I will never forget a particular day in January, before they had actually placed a stage with my diagnosis, my father asking questions and saying, “It’s my understanding from reading on the internet (an absolute No No if you have cancer) that if you are a stage IV you are pretty much a goner!  Hey, dad……I’m still here! lol

So once I changed my thinking a little bit I decided, I can handle this.  Even though its a chronic illness, I can do this (I was also quick to let my mother’s know that this was chronic and her laundry services would be needed indefinitely!  BONUS!).  I also know that doctors and God are not always on the same page and I pray that they are on completely different chapters for a whole different series in my case.  There is definitely a plan for me and I’ve learned that I’m just along for the ride and although the ride can be bumpy, and it certainly has been the past 10 months, my first pit stop on 10-11-12 was just what this girl needed.  Now I’m off for some much needed family time away from everything!

Team Spirit!

Written by Ash on . Posted in News

I may be the one player on my team with this ugly disease in my body, but I am certainly not alone by any means.  I have an amazing team that has come together.   I have been introduced to some AMAZING people, young and old that have come to help me win the game.  I never understood just how many people were watching me or knew of my existence before my diagnosis.  My first thoughts when people would say where they knew me from or where they had seen me were……..I had no idea people were watching me,  I had better straighten up!

Back in February when the time had come to shave my head on.  I had to quickly pull myself and all the pity I was having together and attend my son’s 5th grade Valentine’s Day dance.  Kaige had a dance card full of cute girls to dance with on that day.  It finally made sense as to why he wanted to spray sooo much of that Axe spray that morning when I saw each of these girls.  I never thought that any of them knew of my situation and maybe they didn’t…….but I guess showing up newly inducted into the “bald group” may have given something away.   I want to introduce you to one of the select girls on that dance card………Miss Shayana.

Sometime towards the end of February, Shayana and her mother, Suzana, came to our home one Sunday evening.  I had just recently had a treatment of chemotherapy and was laying on the couch, so Chad answered the door.  Shayana’s mother introduced themselves to him.  She began to describe the idea and act of kindness that her daughter had come up with on her own and had set out to complete it with a crackle in her voice.  An act of kindness for me, someone she had never met.  I remember hearing them talking at the door, I heard names, but nothing really clicked with me because I was only hearing part of the conversation.  As Chad said thank you and shut the door, he came to me and handed me a envelope that was filled to capacity with something.  He began telling about this cute girl, told me her name and I popped up from the couch and said………..”Go catch them!!!”  He was like, what the heck, but took off running to see if he could catch them before they left.  Unfortunately, he was too late and they had already left.  He asked me, “What is going on…..you scared the crap out of me?”  I said, it’s her Chad, it’s her.  He was still confused at my rambling and I’m pretty sure he just thought I was having another one of my “Chemo” moments (those are real FYI).

A couple of weeks earlier, my ward family and friends had put on a garage/bake sale in my honor and a couple of days prior to Shayana coming to my door, I received a very large donation to the paypal account that had been set up for donations.  The message was simple, but it talked about a young girl named Shayana and her efforts to raise money through a bake sale for me.  He just wanted to help out Shayana’s efforts with his donation.   I’m reading this and thinking, “Oh my gosh, our bake sale was weeks ago!”  I didn’t recognize the man’s name, or Shayana for that matter and thought for sure this was a mistake!  In fact, I called my sister-in-law, who manages the account, to tell her that we need to refund this money because somewhere along the way, this guy got the wrong person and/or sale, as ours had long been over.  I didn’t want a donation to be made in my name, especially if it was intended for another person going through something as well.  My sister-in-law said she would contact the man get his money returned.

Finally……..it all made sense.  Shayana and her mother were the link to the puzzle.  As I continued to opened the envelope, tears filled my eyes to capacity as I read the card and saw the results of the efforts from this sweet girl.  She came up with a plan, set it in place and worked her little heart out and had her very own bake sale around her neighborhood.  All for me…………….As I sit here and type this long overdue post about her, it still brings tears to my eyes.  I felt then, as I still do now, so unworthy of the love and acts of charity that are shown to me and my family nearly everyday.

As I went to her house to give my thanks later, I asked her mother if she was trying to fulfill a service project or something and her mom replied, “No, she just wanted to help you!”  Well, help me she did…..not by the money she raised, but my spirits alone.  To think that a girl at such a young age would want to help me in such a selfless way and not receiving anything in return.  What kid does that?  What an amazing young woman Shayana is on her way to be!  Her family, I know, is proud of her as they should be!!  Thank you Shayana for the sweet spirit you are and for your act of service and kindness shown to me and thank you Mr. and Mrs. Whitney for raising such an amazing young girl!

The youth in our neighborhood and school have been so awesome!   I’ve watched my own kids go to school on Friday’s with their Team Ashley shirts on in support of my “Fight Fridays” (chemo day), and end up seeing several other kids wearing the Team Ashley shirts as well.   Not only do I have the support, but my kids have been shown just as much support at their schools.  It was so awesome to go to school on Fridays and see so many kids and teachers supporting my children as they support their mom.  I hope that support continues this school year as I once again begin chemotherapy in August.

I feel that it’s these simple acts of kindness towards one another that sets the ball rolling in our world that can spiral into some awarding experiences from the ones performing the service to those on the receiving end.

Girls at the ballpark…….

Kids in Kaiger’s class at Horizon Elementary, and these are just a few of the

kids who wear the Team Ashley shirt proud.

Am I a lucky girl or what?

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