June 15, 2004, is the day my life changed forever. It’s the day that determined how my highschool career would turn out, what I would go to college for when I graduate, and if I would ever get to have children. On that day, I was diagnosed with stage four leukemia. I am Ashley Marie Smith, and this is my story.
I got the news the summer before my freshman year. Before the diagnoses, I was a happy, hopeful, normal 14-year-old. I had big hopes and dreams. I wanted to go to college, become successful, marry, and eventually become a mother. I had my life figured out, and I was determined to stay on track. To this day, I can not figure out why my body had to turn on itself. Why I had to be the one to get this horrible sickness. But unfortunately for me, I did. It is my life, so I had to deal with it.
I knew I hadn’t been feeling well lately, but I just thought I was exhausted from my long 8th grade year. Yes, I was tired, and didn’t feel very well but I truly didn’t think anything of it. My doctors were amazed that I was handling my illness so well, and continued to stress how important every day is. I was given guide lines for everything - eating, sleeping, how often to be active, how to handle the stress, and depression that was bound to come.
The depression set in pretty fast. My thoughts and comments were horrible. There was no fight in my body. What was there to fight for? I already had stage four. Even my doctors said it was a tough place to start. I was mad at the world, my body, and who ever created me. It wasn’t until I met my favorite cancer nurse, that I got a little bit of hope, and fight in me.
Exactly five days after my diagnoses, I went to America’s greatest research center, The Cancer Center of America. My doctors in my hometown, Kingsville, made it very clear that I needed to get in as soon as possible, so my mom did what a mom does best, and got me into the treatment center in less than a week. As soon as we arrived, my world got turned upside down. For two days straight, I was in and out of doctor offices. I answered hundreds of questions, and had several different test ran. By the end of the second day, I was exhausted! The third day was much more relaxed. It was mostly meeting with doctors, getting opinions, and making plans.
We decided to go for a very aggressive route, so on the fifth day, I started chemotherapy. I, along with 13 other patients, all sat in a big, round room, letting a cold liquid drip into our veins for five hours. I didn’t really talk to any of the other patients, but I did really connect with a nurse. I had a bit of a sour attitude at the beginning of the chemo session, and snapped at her. She proceeded to talk to me in a kind manner, until I did it again. Then she said the words, “I know you don’t want to be here. It sucks having cancer at such a young age, but being mean to others won’t make you feel better.” Instantly, I muttered an apology, and she went on about her business. About an hour later, the same nurse came up. She introduced herself, and told me her story.
Her name is Kelsee, and she is 28 years old. Not only did she have cancer, but she had leukemia when she was younger, too. That is why she is working where she is, helping others win the same battle. Although she only had stage two, her story was really inspirational. Kelsee gave me the fight to keep moving forward, and to fight this. After three, not-so-long hours talking to Kelsee, my chemo time was up. I was allowed to go to the room and sleep. Kelsee said the first round of chemo is always the worst. I went back to the room, and decided to sleep while I could. A few hours into the night, I woke up with a horrible feeling. I started vomiting immediately. There was no stopping. My body hurt, I didn’t feel good, I was weak, and freezing all while puking my guts out. When Kelsee said this was the worst, she was not wrong. I can’t even make this experience sound pretty, because there is no hiding the cold, hard truth. We ended up staying at the cancer center for an extra night, just because I was too weak to function.
Eventually, I was able to hold down the smallest amount of food, and we decided to head home. On the way home, I slept, and slept, and slept, and slept. I just could not get enough rest. Kelsee said that is was normal, and to expect it. We also exchanged numbers, so we could keep in contact while I was in Kingsville. It felt good to talk to someone that had been through the same thing as me, and to know she was alive today, felt even better.
It was the end of June, and the news was out. I am Ashley the freak/sob story with cancer. I either got pity party text, or strange looks. Everyone was treating me different, and I was not a fan. I’m not the type to enjoy the attention, especially on something like this. Everyone tried to seem supportive, but I knew they were just curious. I didn’t blame them, though. I would have been curious, too. The worst of all was how my mom, and best friend were treating me. My mom and Kaitlyn were treating me like I was fragile, like I would break at any moment. Since the only family I had was my mom, Kaitlyn was truly the only other part of my support system. I really didn’t need those two acting different. I needed them to be strong. If they were strong, it would will me to be strong as well. Kelsee was checking in occasionally, to ask if I had any questions, and just to see how I was doing. Kelsee was several years older than me, but I was becoming really attached to her. Considering she went through the same experience, she had tons of tips and tricks to get over the aching bones, lack of sleep, and stomach sickness. I had no idea how much Kelsee truly helped me, until it came time to go back to the cancer center.
Two weeks after we got home, it was time to go back for scans. The drive to the treatment center was long, and I was very anxious. I could not sit still. The doctors said that if we can not see any improvement, that we will do one more round and go from there. If there is improvement, we will try and stick with this type of chemo and see how it goes. All the way there, I was in between hopeful, and scared. What if it goes well, and I have to stick with this treatment for a years? What if it doesn’t go well, nothing works, and I die?
Five, long hours later, we get to the center, and get settled in. Since the only thing I was here for was a pet scan, it wasn’t as crazy as the last time. Once we were settled, we were able to go explore for the day. We went shopping, to a museum, and ate at a really nice Italian restaurant. After we finished eating dinner, we went back to the room. My mom thought I would need all the rest that I can get, since tomorrow could be an emotional day. It was impossible to sleep that night. I was constantly waking up, and fighting sleep. My mind would not stop wondering.
Finally, the next morning came. I was already awake when it was time to start getting ready. I got in my most comfortable clothes, threw my hair up, and was ready for the day. My mom and I went to the cafe to get breakfast. I wasn’t all that hungry, so all I ate was a muffin, despite my mom telling me I really should eat more. I was just too nervous.
A few hours of waiting came, and went, as we were sitting in the waiting room to be called back. It was a little before lunch when the time finally came. I go back, and they ask if I can take out my ear rings, and any other piercings I may have. I also had to change into a hospital gown, and lay on a flat bed, under a very large, tube like machine. I was told to stay completely still, as they were scanning my body for cancer. The scan started, and it was the most annoying sound, ever. It resembled a hammer repetively hitting wood, over and over. I eventually blocked out the sound, and fell asleep.
I was woken up by my mom slightly nudging my shoulder. After my I-don’t-know-how-long nap, it was time to change, and review the scan. We met in an office, and the scans looked the same. My doctors were hopeful, and decided to do one more round of the treatment I received last time. After making a plan, we were able to go back and do as we please, until my chemo treatment the following day. My mom and I decided to go have lunch with Kelsee. Kelsee was over joyed to see me doing well, and in much better spirits this time. We caught up, and proceeded to talk about how I was going to handle this battle. Kelsee’s advice was to also keep my head up, and never get down. She said your body knows when you are being negative, so it is easy to fight when being positive. After finishing lunch, my mom and I went to watch a movie in the movie room, and then went back to our room. We decided to watch some TV, and order takeout for dinner. Soon after dinner, we both got in bed, and slept.
The next morning, we woke up hoping to get a head start on the day, making it possible for us to be home before the chemo hit. Like last time, I sat in a room for five hours, doing nothing. Once my chemo treatment was done, we headed home. The side effects were not nearly as severe as they were the last time, but they still sucked. A few days later, I was back to the normal, not-feeling-well-but-at-least-I’m-alive Ashley.
This is Ashley’s mom, Krista. I am sorry to say that Ashley did not make it through the next week, following her second chemo treatment. Little did we know, stage four had actually turned into stage six, faster than we could have imagined. Ashley was put into the hospital, and passed a few days later. I wanted her book to be finished, and published. The point of this story, was to show that cancer is not great, or beautiful. Though that may be true, Ashley fought with such beauty, for the month that we knew she had leukemia. I want everyone to know that Ashley had to hope to finish this fight, even on her last days. I could only wish for this book to be finished like she would want, but I did not fight the battle for her… Only she knew these experiences.
I will miss my daughter dearly, but she is no longer fighting, or in pain.
Much love to those who read this,