This is a picture of me at 5 years old, joyful and dreaming. I was most likely dreaming about my future to be in the next “Annie” production. The first role I played was Gretl Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.” I absolutely loved playing the part of someone else. I enjoyed singing, dancing and acting at a very young age. It was like acting as someone else, and seeing others’ reaction, only increased my desire to spend more time improving my talent. It was never a main lead, but I enjoyed the idea of acting in a supporting role.
My parents were both music teachers and naturally helped me in any audition I wanted assistance with but also encouraged me to figure out my own way on how to act the part or sing the variation of the song.
I can specifically recall one opportunity where I really felt life was unfair! I worked hard and spent time working on every part of the vocal selections chosen by the All-State Directors. I gave up so much for a chance to audition as a soprano, only to find out everyone in my quartet made the Iowa All-State choir except me. By the way, my brother was in the same quartet with me, so although my parents were disappointed for me they were so happy and proud of my brother.
What I remember most is that on one hand, I was happy for my brother, but on the other hand, I was so sad for myself. I felt it was so unfair!
This is when my dad looked at me and said something like…“life isn’t fair, you may not be the voice they were looking for this time, but there is always a next time.”
In the end, there was nothing my parents could do to change the fact my name, Angela Ashby, wasn’t on the long list of names that had made the All-State choir. I had to experience this disappointment and move on but not give up; rather, try harder the next year.
This is just one of the many times I have faced defeat growing up, but this is also one of the many opportunities God has placed in my life to prepare me for the next disappointment. I want you to know that I had an amazing childhood and adolescence. However, it was not without adversity and thankfully, God prepared me for what was ahead. I just didn’t know it! In fact, this was only an introduction to the many obstacles ahead in my life.
We all face obstacles at different times in our life, these annoying lessons and failures…things that make us, or break us!
Sure, it would be easy to quit and crawl into a dark hole and yes, I have felt that way at times, but then God sends me someone or puts an event in my life that reminds me of a greater purpose like community service. I have always enjoyed the way community service makes me feel. It fills me with more joy then I could create on my own. I can’t even count the number of service hours I have put in with my children, all so they can see just how lucky and loved they truly are. These little acts of kindness are what fill me, and them, up.
I thank my parents for helping me fill my tool box with so many ways to cope, but most of all, for letting me fail. After all, failing, struggling, trying again, and overcoming challenges gives us joy, confidence, and coping skills. I thank my therapist who has helped me learn new ways to see myself and stay on MY side of the net! It’s so easy for us to jump over the net and help those suffering in our life, but sometimes they need to help themselves.
We live in a society where we are used to getting quick results! When it comes to dealing with the challenges life throws at us, there is no “quick fix.” I have to remember to be patient with my body as it heals from such a major surgery. I have to be okay to look at myself in the mirror and know the body God gave me has been altered, and certainly not by choice, but to save my life.
Healing mentally, physically, and spiritually takes humility to help us realize there is something greater than ourselves. In everything I have gone through in my 44 years of life, as long as I turned to “my greater power” which for me is God, He showed me the way. Sometimes, I had to get down on my knees, admit I was powerless, and ask God to help me.
Is this a weakness or a strength?
There is NO doubt in the core of being, it is a strength. It takes courage to ask for help, maybe it’s from God, a family member, a friend, therapist, church leader…maybe it’s all of them.
I had an appointment with Dr. O’Dea yesterday. The first thing she did when she entered my patient room is hold up a piece of paper with my oncotype results on it. I saw the piece of paper, but I have to say I also noticed she wasn’t wearing her usual stilettos. The times I have left her office in the past, I have always been amazed at how she wears them all day long. She is so smart, beautiful and bold. She definitely made a bold statement yesterday, but it wasn’t about her stilettos, it was all about my results.
I am happy to report that chemotherapy will not be a part of my treatment plan. If I had received this breast cancer diagnosis just two years ago, at the age I am now, without question my treatment plan would include chemotherapy. As research has progressed, this oncotype test tells my oncologist what she needs to know about my cancer and all of its’ characteristics. Dr. Larson, my breast cancer surgeon, already knew after the pathology report that it wasn’t in any of the five lymph nodes they removed, so my age was their biggest concern. The oncotype results showed that with hormone treatment, specifically Tamoxifen, taken daily for 5-10 years I would have a 3% chance of recurrence.
Are there side effects to Tamoxifen?
Yes, but the side effects do not outweigh the good it will do in getting me to the 97% survival rate. Adding chemo would not increase that percentage at all. Since I had a bilateral mastectomy, there was no need for radiation, so I will begin Tamoxifen in the next week. The next three to six months will be the hardest on my body as it adjusts to the hormone receptor blocker. At least that is my hope! Then there will also be reconstruction which will involve another surgery, most likely late spring to early summer. So, now I know the treatment plan, but it is not a “quick fix” like I might wish for.
In my case, I am very thankful for the outcome of the oncotype results, and so glad our medical field has progressed along to not make someone go through chemotherapy if it wouldn’t benefit them. We know my cancer grows off estrogen, so the hormone receptor blocker will be the most important treatment to keep me healthy.
What a relief, right?
I should be happy, but I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. I have been going full force ahead since my diagnosis and now, I have to come to terms with the daunting future ahead of me. I know the road ahead will be longer than I want it to be; yet another reminder there is no “quick fix” in life when we deal with a big challenge we are faced with. There is a lot of healing to do: emotional and physical healing, learning to love my new body that looks very different now, and dealing with a long list of potential side effects. I get worn out easily and there will still be many appointments, scans, and a daily pill I will be taking.
Believe me, I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I also want to tell you that I would rather not even be going through this. As I have learned, that isn’t God’s plan. Instead, I was given this diagnosis only to find a greater calling. One that has always been so close to who I am…that is service. I am going to make sure that any person going through a surgery that requires drains will receive a complimentary “Abundant Pocket Hoodie” if they desire one. Sometimes, it is too easy to be the actress and put a smile on my face and pretend like everything is okay. Life is hard, but finding joy in something helps me get through the hard stuff. Living in Abundance brings me joy and a welcome escape from the demands of my daily life. We all struggle with our own things, but if we lean on God and each other, we can still have joy.
So, as I look at this picture of a 5 year old girl named Angela Ashby, I can notice she has a smile on her face. Today, after everything she has been through, she still has a smile on her face, but now she is sitting in “The Healing Chair” as she types this blog post. She is still serving a purpose: to make the world a little bit better than she found it.