In June 2014, I was awaiting the birth of my second son, David, while juggling a demanding job and raising an 18-month-old, Noah, with my husband, Brad. We had just moved into a home in the suburbs to accommodate our growing family. We were living a fairytale -- the American dream.
Our American dream became a nightmare when, at 34 weeks pregnant, I noticed changes in one of my breasts. After a few doctors told me that my symptoms were typical for a woman during pregnancy, I went online. MD Anderson's website indicated that my symptoms aligned with those associated with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). An ultrasound and biopsy confirmed my worst fears. I did indeed have IBC. To make matters worse, my breast cancer was triple-negative, making it more challenging to treat.
Due to limited knowledge and treatment options for my disease, as well as the aggressive nature of triple-negative IBC, my prognosis is poor. However, I still have hope. In December 2014, after six months of chemotherapy, I learned my cancer had progressed, not shrunk.
Despite my poor response to initial treatments, I was committed to continuing to believe I could be healed. One morning spending time with my sons in our backyard, I envisioned our lives together at the much-anticipated post-diagnosis five-year mark, which will also correspond with David's fifth birthday.
Creating a vision for the future
It is four-and-a-half years from now, and we are in my Texas-sized backyard. It is three years past the median survival time for someone with my diagnosis -- and I am alive.
We are in my backyard celebrating David's fifth birthday. You and I go and untie one of the many balloons along my iron fence. You read my handwriting on the piece of paper tied to your balloon. Yours says, "Doctors telling me I had 'No Evidence of Disease.'" Mine says, "David born healthy with no time in the NICU."
We look around, and the backyard is filled with friends and family, everyone who has walked with us and followed our journey. People have flown in from all over the US, from all over the world. Some of these people we have never even met in person before today.
Each guest waits his or her turn to untie a balloon and read the miracle attached to it. Brad attempts to get everyone's attention once all the balloons have found owners. He has to use a megaphone to be heard above the commotion.
Brad shares a simple prayer and thanks all those that have made my cancer journey possible.
And with that, you let go of your balloon, and we watch as hundreds of balloons fill the sky.
Finding hope during triple-negative IBC treatment
This vision helps me keep hope alive. Sharing it with others is my way of planting a stake in the ground: I'm going to do whatever it takes to beat all the odds, and to be here for my boys five years from now. I'm going to keep on hoping.
No matter where you are in your or your loved one's treatment, you must continue to hope. Hope for a cure, hope for more days, hope for quality of life in the days remaining.
Hope is life-giving and refuses to allow cancer to steal more days from you and your loved ones than it absolutely has to.
Read more about Ashleigh's life on her blog, where she routinely over-shares about her crazy life raising two boys while battling cancer.
Triple-negative breast cancer is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Breast and Ovarian Moon Shot.