Cancer: an open letter.

I’ve felt exceptionally down this last week – physically and emotionally. It has been a number of things, but the culminating moment came on Monday morning.

A fun trip to Washington DC on Sunday, turned south quickly for me. I woke up feeling woozy and by the end of the day was leaning over a trash can on the National Mall throwing up like a midday drunk.

Somehow, in all of it, I happened to be sitting by the Washington Monument during the most spectacular sunset.

After not being able to hold anything down and not eating or drinking for 24 hours, I woke up Monday morning feeling equally as terrible. When you are a study subject, you have to notify your medical team about {almost} every physical ailment.. For example: “Hi, it’s Ashley. I have a pounding headache. May I take 2 Tylenol?”or “Hi, it’s Ashley again. My temperature is 99.4 – no other symptoms – what do you think?” So before calling my family doc to just make sure it wasn’t the flu or the coronavirus, I contacted my care team at Penn. They seemed nervous. They would call me back after talking it over. Five minutes later my nurse at Penn called back. “Hey Ashley, the doctor wants you to be seen here today at the Oncology Evaluation Center. He wants you to have some labs done and probably get a liter of fluids. Is there any way you can make it here?”

Let me give you an idea of what Monday looked like for me. Owen and Myra didn’t have school and had exhausted their one hour of screen time by 9:30am. Three of our girls were with us for the holiday break, the other nine would be returning from break between noon and 5pm. That meant signing kids in, talking to parents, checking bags, making dinner and catching up with each one of them about their weekends at home. On top of that, we had a brand new houseparent couple shadowing us for the day. It was 10:30am. Could I be in Philly {2 hours away} by the time the OEC closed at 3pm?

I went to work making phone calls. My parents graciously took our kids to lighten Joe’s load. My dad volunteered to travel with me, since I was probably a hazard traveling by myself. I called my supervisor and put in for a sick day. Then I booked the next train headed for Philly.

When I got there, I started with a chest x-ray. Procedure, they told me. It was the first time in a while that I got to put on a hospital gown. Good news – I still look awesome in them! Then I headed upstairs for all the tests – 2 blood cultures, 3 tubes of blood sent to the lab, urine test, swabs up my nose and down my throat and all successfully completed despite my super dehydrated state!

I can’t say enough about Penn and the people there. They almost make you want to go to the hospital more often. They are empathetic and kind and patient. From the front desk to the radiology techs and phlebotomists to my clinical trial team, I always feel hopeful when I walk through the doors. While I was waiting to be seen by the nurse practitioner at the OEC, my trial nurse came down to see me and she stayed with me the whole time. My labs all looked good, so probably just a stomach bug they concluded and sent me off to the infusion room for a liter of fluids, promising that after patients get fluids, they perk up like a wilted plant that gets watered. They weren’t wrong. My dad and I left, grabbed some dinner at the train station and made the 6:55 train back home.

It was a whirlwind. A detour. An unplanned road block. I’m still feeling a bit sluggish and worn down because the rest of life doesn’t stand still for cancer. And it all got me thinking about a couple things. First, it made me realize that this clinical trial is no joke. If my white counts had been down, they were going to keep me overnight! Just for a stomach bug! The second thing I got thinking about is that I am coming up on my 12th PET scan (next Thursday) and almost 5 years of living with cancer. I was feeling a little down and anxious about all of that – the riskiness of my daily life as a clinical trial patient and the upcoming scan and well, just cancer – and I thought, there is nothing I can do to change my circumstances right now, so let’s find some joy in it all.

So I present to you, my open letter to cancer.

Dear Cancer,

We have known each other for almost 5 years now! You started as a real pain in the neck and have since discovered a nice home for yourself deep inside the lymph nodes in my lungs. I imagine that you are like the mucus men in the Mucinex commercials, dodging each new treatment I throw at you. Apparently I have been much too hospitable.

Cancer, you are unpredictable, impulsive and unfortunately, resilient. I’m never sure what your next move will be. I wish it would be to move out. You are so high maintenance, always wanting all the attention! And just when I manage to ignore you, you send me rushing to the doctor for tests and scans. Chill already, will ya?

At first, I was scared of you. I still am sometimes. However, that is not why I am writing this letter to you. I am writing to you today, cancer, to say thank you. Yes, you have been annoying, painful and incalculable (and still are), but you have also given me the greatest gifts. You have made me brave. You have taught me that today is my day, because tomorrow you may finally have your stupid way. You (by example) have taught me to be resilient. You have made me realize that I can’t wait until you finally leave to be joyful and live life to the fullest, and in doing so, have given me the most genuine joy because it comes in spite of you, not in the absence of you. Thank you cancer. Thank you for helping me love more deeply and relate more genuinely with those who hurt around me. Thank you for introducing me to some of the most amazing doctors and nurses and care providers. I never would have stepped foot into Abramson Cancer Center if it weren’t for you. God has shown me peace and redemption in a way I never would have understood if you had never moved in.

So, cancer, happy almost 5 year anniversary. I’m not sure how much longer we’ll have together. If you wanted to leave tomorrow, I wouldn’t be upset. But, if you still have some more gifts to give me, I guess I’m ok with you hanging around as long as you need to.

See you next Thursday at my scan! Hope you’ve lost some weight!

Sincerely,
Ashley

10 thoughts on “Cancer: an open letter.

  1. Crashley,
    Thank you for being such an inspiration despite your situation. Tom and I are always encouraged by your journey. We know not every day is a joy for you, but you CHOOSE JOY, and in doing so, you are a blessing to all who know you. We pray for you always. Love, Becky and Tom

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  2. Ashley,
    I don’t know how you have done it, well I guess I do know. God’s strength is amazing and so are you. Thank you for sharing so openly with us. Daniel and I are praying you and Joe, and for your beautiful kids and for the 12 girls that God has entrusted to you.

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  3. Ashley you are a truly amazing woman. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. Thank you for all you do for all that have come through your doors at MHS God has given you this opportunity to be a blessing to many.

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  4. Girl..
    You are amazing!!! Continuing to pray!!!
    Thanking God with you for every sunrise and sunset you see!!!
    Sending BIG Hugs!!

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  5. Ashley you are an amazing woman not many people would have the fortitude you have I am praying for you and hopefully for your recovery God bless you

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  6. Ashley,
    First of all you are an amazing writer…I think you have found another career in your spare time! Lol! Second…thank you so much for being open and willing to share this journey. You have no idea what an inspiration you are to so many! You give perspective, faith, courage and hope to so many facing their own struggles! Love and continued prayers to you and your family!!!
    Stay Stong!!!

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  7. Ashley, you truly are an amazing woman. I can’t imagine going through all that you have and having the strength and courage and faith that you have. I will continue to pray for you and may God grant you all that you need.

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  8. Thanks for verbalizing all my thoughts. Your strength inspires me to be stronger. My money is on you Ashley Hoover and with Jesus in your corner of the ring, you will always be victorious!

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  9. You are an amazing writer! You brought me to tears and I am NOT a crier. You encourage me to look for the gifts (in the midst of crisis) instead of dwelling on the negative. I love you and will continue to pray for you!!!!!!!

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