Personal thoughts written by Ashley Wood 6/4/14

Even tho I’m clean, it doesn’t go away. It’s in the news all the time, “there’s a new cancer center opening,” “this celebrity has cancer,” “so-and-so has cancer, did you hear,” and it is now a word of my past.

It defines me, or at least a past time.

Cancer survivor.

I had cancer.

I beat cancer.

That scar is from a hunting accident with a bow and arrow… No, just kidding, it was because of cancer,  my port.

Oh, that scar on my stomach? That’s from cancer, where they took a biopsy of my softball size tumor.

Why are you so tired and winded at this workout, you’re young and you’re skinny? Well this one time, I had cancer.

I feel pretty great now but I can’t shake cancer.

I don’t really even feel the need to tell people anymore unless they see a scar, or hear about why I’m going to Estes for a week free. Or see that I’m tired or my legs hurt from too much standing or walking. Or why I eat healthy now, the foods I’m eating. No gluten? Weirdo.

Sometimes I used to say it to shock people. It is shocking. I mean look at my pet scan. Maybe it’s because I don’t believe it myself now. But by telling it, I believe that that was me. I did go thru all that, it wasn’t a dream. I did have cancer.

In an awfully weird way, it was a gift. It inspired me to become healthier, learn about the human body, learn about nutrition and what we fuel ourselves with and slather up with, all affect us in some way.

Cancer inspired me to become me.

I eat real food now. It doesn’t come from a box or package. It wasn’t made by someone else. Or in some manufacturing plant. Or a warehouse. I have vegetables that I cook up with some meat and I eat it. Whoa that is so new age. I am so woo woo. Who am I, eating food? People definitely shouldn’t listen to me, they might turn crazy like me.

Cancer inspired me to become me.

I am clear, no more foggy mind, I blame the food. Chemo made me foggy, carbs made me foggy. I started paying attention to how my body felt after eating certain things. It craves those dark leafy greens. I get so excited to eat every meal. It tastes so good and my body just can’t wait to get that fuel.

Cancer made me become me.

I was quiet and shy and didn’t like to stand out. I think because I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be. I was always thinking about how others viewed me. It didn’t matter what I thought of me, but how others thought of me. I didn’t have much to talk about. Nothing much to say. Cancer gave me a story, um… quite dramatically for someone who is non-dramatic. But maybe that is what it took for me to wake up, open up and realize who I am.

I know who I am now.

So what happened when you heard the word cancer. How did you react?

Well I heard “it may be cancerous.” In my mind I was like no way, not me. That’s not the answer. That’s not what is happening to me. That’s for old people and sick people.

I heard that “it’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” Well I had heard of Non-Hodgkins. No clue what it was. I didn’t know it was cancer. I didn’t know an “oncologist” was a “cancer doctor.”

I just heard Burkitt’s. It’s a name of something. Now they can fix it. Relief. No more wondering what the F- is going on here.

A solution. A way to make me feel better. Well… eventually.

I had to talk to my cells, tell them to use this chemo to get rid of the cancer. Always saying be strong, this chemo is helping this body. I always knew I would be ok.

My parents and family, the few I let see me in this awful, wearing, depleting time, no doubt thought otherwise. Probably everyone who heard, thought the worst. Looking back, yeah I suppose I looked like I was on my death bed.

But I wasn’t. I KNEW I wasn’t. That thought never even occurred to me actually. I knew I would be ok. Part of my saving grace was these positive thoughts, my attitude that I will win. I will beat this. I got this. I had support, and a want to make it thru.

I hadn’t yet found my purpose. This had something to do with it. Here I am trying to help you with what I know. I wish I had someone to help me, to tell me, here is the problem. This stuff you call food isn’t helping you. Here try this. This will be better. All those problems, your acne, you painful periods, your desire to never leave the couch, your constant feeling of tired, they can be solved by switching what you are eating. Geez how simple. But I didn’t have someone telling me.

But I had cancer. Cancer told me.

At first I was so scared to lose my hair. My curls are what defined me. That was who I was, Ashley with the curly hair. I had kind of wanted to have dreadlocks when I was 20 for fun, and mostly for the non-washing part! But because I would have had to cut my hair short when I was over them, I didn’t do it. My curls… as short hair? A big poof ball. I didn’t need the poodle comments. So that never happened.

But here comes cancer… chemo… and curls no more. I couldn’t do anything about it. It was inevitable with my chemo regimen. However, I tell you this, my hair came back! It was baby soft, oh was it soft. And it was cute, but I always had in the back of my mind, lesbian. You know, that stereotype, that I will be judged. I gotta wear makeup and dress cute so I don’t look like a lesbian. I don’t know if people thought that, or saw cancer patient, or maybe that I was stylish with a pixie cut, (luckily for me that was in style for the courageous). I got compliments and I really did love it short. I would have never known because I would have never been courageous enough to go there.

Another thing cancer taught me. Don’t be too set in your ways. See things in a new light. Things you thought in the past should be dismissed and open to new ideas.

Well the chemo ended, my cancer was gone. And my time in the hospital ended but I was still very sick. So what did I do after I was sick and cancery looking? I was 30 pounds under my regular weight. Had no hair. No eye eyebrows. No eyelashes. Pale and Skelton-like. Bony.

I had to recover from this. I could barely walk from the makeshift bed on the living room floor to the bathroom around the corner. The proteins that were stored in my muscles had long ago wasted away. I had no strength. My difficulty in eating when food tasted weird and there was no appetite at all. I had no strength, energy was on empty. But I was determined to become strong again. Each day I did what I could. Eventually with the help of my mom and my grandma’s purple walker, we would make a full loop in the cul-de-sac. Then it became 2 laps. Then I was able to start PT… In the basement at the hospital with the 70 & 80 year olds and their music from the ’50’s playing the same mix every day.

But I stayed focused, noticing small improvements every time. Sure it would have been so much easier, to just lie there at home and be sad for myself, complain about it, strive for sympathy from others, poor me, look at me, don’t you feel sorry for me. So much easier to play a victim, but no, I wanted to be me again. But better. A new me. An improved better version of me. I took my life into my control and owned the cancer that I had. I showed it up.

Girl with dark short hair on beach contemplating life

I am in charge. You are not ever coming back. No, I am not a victim. I was never a victim. I had cancer and I am a cancer survivor. But, I am Ashley. I have curly hair. I have some interesting scars. And I now have a story.

I am not going back to what was before. Pasta, desserts, alcohol, bread, tortillas, depression, boredom, lack of motivation, lack of desire, sitting around all the time on the couch, hiding behind the alcohol, behind the fact I’m shy. I’m still an introvert but at least I know what that is now. I’m not the sole introvert in this world.

No, I’m energized, inspired, happy, grateful, in charge, focused, learning, teaching, helpful …because of cancer.

written by Ashley Wood 6/4/14