BeyondTutoring.com is proud to present this heartfelt, personal story of inspiration and triumph from Ms. Ashley McAuley. Ashley is a sorority sister and friend who inspires me to keep teaching people to be their best advocate as she has been hers. She is our first Women Crush Wednesday (#wcw) and personifies what it means to be a beacon of health and light in her community. I am so grateful to continually be inspired by her and know you will be, too.
As a senior in college, I was on top of the world. Excellent grades, wonderful friends, a great boyfriend, and the excitement of job-hunting before graduation. Due to scheduling as well as those excellent grades, I was also looking at a light class load for the spring which would give me plenty of free time to commit to that job-hunting. Then it happened. Around Thanksgiving, I found a lump. My left underarm was not symmetrical to my right. Puzzled (I hadn’t noticed any other symptoms) and scared (a lump!?), I went to the campus health center where I was checked, then checked again, and sent off for an ultrasound, which resulted in being stuck with a rather large needle for the sake of biopsy. I took my accounting final wrapped breathless in a giant bandage. Still, they had said it could be an infection. When it came time for me to meet the doctor again, I was expecting to walk out with a prescription for an antibiotic. Instead, I was told that I had cancer, and for a moment the world stood absolutely still.
The next few months were a whirlwind. I was diagnosed with a type of cancer that tends to affect young people and has no known risk factors. It is highly aggressive and requires high intensity chemotherapy. My (brilliant, awesome) doctor actually encouraged me to put school on hold, but how could I? School was my life. What else would I do? It turned out that the light class load would enable me to stay in school during treatment. My professors were understanding, but there were still times when I struggled to complete homework or prepare adequately for tests. The effects of chemo were harsh. I lost my hair, my skin turned sallow, I had terrible problems with my gut and stomach, and the fatigue was so bad that walking up a single flight of stairs could drain me. A dear friend counseled me that looking for a job online was easy, and I replied that I usually didn’t have enough energy to brush my teeth. I also had memory problems, and at one point I showed up at a campus office anxious because I thought I had neglected to turn in paperwork on time. The assistant pulled out my file, which was complete with all the required documents.
My friends and family provided me with invaluable support. My mom, who lived in another state, flew in and stayed throughout my treatment. She helped me dye my hair “Barbie pink” before it all came out. My boyfriend held my hand, told me I was still pretty, and guided me in meditation when I was most stressed. Other friends and family sent flowers, books, soft blankets, an assortment of things that made me feel their love; some came out for a visit. My sorority sisters showed their support through other acts of kindness- complimenting me on my scarves, leaving treats at my door, saving me from another night of hospital food. They cheered me on through the Survivor’s Lap at the campus Relay For Life and in doing so opened the door to another world, a world in which I could translate my experience into something more meaningful, a way to fight back. I am now a Hero of Hope with the American Cancer Society and a veteran Relay organizer.
Due to an incredible set of circumstances, a lot of support, and a dose of willpower, I passed my classes and still managed to graduate on time, magna cum laude. The volunteer violinist who had played at my hospital, who serenaded my ward with soothing melodies, walked across the stage with me to be inducted into the same honors society. We called it the best of a worst situation. My cancer was aggressive, but it also responded well to treatment, and today I am cancer free. My dedicated boyfriend became my dedicated husband, and we are now the proud parents of a sweet little girl. I have celebrated nine birthdays since my diagnosis, and I work daily to create a world with more birthdays. More birthdays means more lives saved.
Championing a healthy lifestyle is yet another way I have found to fight back. At the time of my diagnosis, I didn’t appreciate what “healthy living” meant. Today, I know that it’s a mix of things. Healthy living is both spiritual and physical; we must support a sound mind and a sound body. Eating well actually makes you feel well; feeding your soul properly has a similar effect. My husband also recognizes the importance of both kinds of health. We encourage each other’s health at every level and endeavor to share our knowledge with others. It is amazing to experience the ripple effect as we share the tools for a healthy life with those around us.
Life with a diagnosis can present its own unique challenges. Maybe the hardest part for me was actually letting other people help. I tend to be very independent, so asking for help was a skill I had to develop in a short time. Keeping a firm grip on self control also proved to be essential.
There were definitely days when I asked myself why I hadn’t taken my doctor’s advice to put school on hold. The combination of feeling just little bit better and a beautiful spring day in Southern California could tempt me away from the pileup of homework that required my attention. And yet school proved to be a source of normalcy, even when I struggled with it, even when I was exhausted, even when I walked into class embarrassed in a knit cap. I didn’t realize it at the time, but sticking to school was a way of fighting back, right then and there. Even now I haven’t stopped fighting back and the world, I hope, will never be the same.