Life after diagnosis: Sasha's fight with cancer

Monday, February 04, 2019

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Today, February 4, is World Cancer Day, and below we share the story of one woman's fight with the illness.

FOR some women, turning 30 means worrying about anticipated, inevitable changes to their bodies, like a slowing metabolism, the chances of wrinkles, and possibly gaining excessive weight. For others, just the thought of getting older is daunting. However, for 32-year-old Sasha Phillips Ashburn, those woes paled in comparison to what she would experience. Just weeks before her 30th birthday, Ashburn, a young businesswoman, went to get screened and tested positive for stage two breast cancer.

As one of the recently selected winning entries of NCB's Grant A Wish Christmas promotion, Ashburn's experience with cancer shows the importance of early detection, the power of self-awareness, and the need for a good support system.

Admittedly, before her diagnosis, she was no stranger to cancer since she had seen it rattle the lives of many family members dear to her. Therefore, armed with that knowledge of her heritage, she knew her chances of escaping this deadly disease were very slim. Nevertheless, she never expected to face cancer at such a young age.

Always very conscious about her health and well-being, Ashburn recalls having felt a small lump in her right breast in 2014 and immediately visiting her physician. Her doctor at the time advised her to monitor the lump since she also had fibrocystic breasts, which are not harmful but cause the breasts to feel lumpy. However, by 2015 the size of the lump increased and so did her concerns. She was encouraged to do a biopsy and subsequently a mammogram, which is a functional low-dose X-ray system used to see inside the breasts.

“I was shocked. I remember saying, 'At my age? Why do I need to do a mammogram?',” she said, and though they assured her it would be more effective, she opted to do the biopsy first.

“I got the results in about seven to eight business days,” she said. “And it was positive for stage two breast cancer. The doctors said it was very aggressive and that I needed to seek treatment as soon as possible.”

After doing a host of other tests and scans, doctors assured her that her golden ticket to survival would be to do chemotherapy.

Known the world over as one of the most aggressive cancer treatments, 'chemo' is a type of therapy that uses one or more anti-cancer drugs as part of a regulated regimen. Ashburn said she was not very keen on going that route, as she had seen her grandmother try this method and still come out unsuccessful. Having had two grandmothers, one grandfather and her mother diagnosed with cancer, Ashburn knew that chemo was but one of many options to treat this condition. Yet despite her reservations, she began exploring it anyway.

“I thought, well, if they say that this is the best option for my case, then I should at least try. So very scared, I went to do it. But when I got there the doctors said I had to get a port as my veins were too small,” she said.

Doctors use small ports attached to a catheter to give intravenous fluids, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, and other drugs. According to the American Cancer Society, every year nearly 9.6 million people worldwide die from cancer, but Ashburn had no intention of being a statistic. So though she was sceptical, she did the surgery and received the port. However, after many contemplations and mulling over videos a close family member sent about 'the truth about cancer and chemotherapy', she decided not to go through with chemo. So she removed the port and turned to another source of aid — her faith and homoeopathic therapy.

“I prayed to God and begged Him to help me change my lifestyle,” she said. “And those changes came fast.”

In a matter of months, Ashburn stopped using perfume, became vegan, started drinking natural juices and eating only raw fruits and vegetables.

She visited the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida, USA, where she received support to manage her condition using homoeopathic protocols. Costing the now new bride more than US$6,000, she was put on an intense regimen including vitamin C and B17 invitros and other alternative medicines and techniques.

“After I was done, despite the lump still being there, my body felt 100 times better, and after a while the lump went away,” she said.

To her, this new lifestyle was saving her life, until the winter of 2017 when she was visiting family in the US.

“My breast started to swell again,” she said.

Subsequent to returning home, Ashburn said she opted to continue her regimen, taking vitamins C and B17 invitros at least twice a month and continuing to eat right. However, the swelling continued without let-up. Soon after that, she felt lumps under her arm and began experiencing severe burning sensations and pains in her breast as well as under her arm. With the goal of sticking to her non-traditional forms of care, she started using cannabis oil and capsules in October of last year to alleviate the pain, and hopefully get her body back on track. However, in a few weeks, her body became immune to the treatment, and the pain was no match for the herb or its healing properties.

Ashburn's story mirrors the experiences of millions across the globe who continue to deal with this disease and its impact on their lives. Like her, every year millions of people do what they can to raise awareness and inspire others who have this condition. In fact, since 2008, on February 4 each year, the Union for International Cancer Control and its partners celebrate World Cancer Day, with the hope of raising the awareness of cancer and encouraging its prevention, detection, and treatment.

Ashburn again, under the influence of her sister, turned to her local doctor who suggested doing chemo, before attempting to do a mastectomy.

“Now that the lymph nodes were swollen and infected, my oncologist said it would be best for me to do the chemo first before the surgery,” she said.

Still, before making any further decisions, the young wife and now event planner returned to the United States to visit family as she did the winter before. However, the warm visit turned cold when she was rushed to the emergency room in New York.

“All the doctors were shocked that I was still alive. Since the cancer is hormone positive, they were all wondering how I was still holding on,” she admitted. “But I tell you, faith in God is so powerful. I just kept praying and putting my trust in Him.”

Despite her fervent prayers, though, tests revealed that her condition had worsened and she was now a stage four cancer patient, dimming the little light she had for the future. Now more than ever, Ashburn needed support.

With a loving and supportive husband, family, church and group of friends, Ashburn began her journey to treatment once again.

“My friends started a GoFundMe page to raise money for my treatment,” she explained.

Through this online donation platform, she was able to raise enough money to see an oncologist abroad who was adamant that chemo was her only way to survival. Again, Ashburn was dubious, but as life would have it, her tunnel began to brighten.

“Late last year, just at the last minute, I found a doctor who said I could do a form of radiotherapy that will help to treat the cancer in my body and reduce the swelling of my breast,” she said.

Now with new-found hope, Ashburn said this treatment can be the key to saving her life, but the cost is a pretty penny. At US$6,000 per treatment for 21 consecutive sessions, the young fighter is now tasked with sourcing in excess of J$17 million to cover the expenses. However, she is not doing it alone. Her friends and family continue to render whatever little support they can.

To that end, one friend Marcia Higgins saw the need to nominate Ashburn for NCB's Grant A Wish Christmas promotion, which NCB hosted on Facebook. This flagship campaign to give back to the nation's people had as its theme, “Wishing Well”. Higgins tossed her vote for Ashburn, and since then so have more than 1000 other supporters. With the aim of giving donations of up to $200,000, the bank and its subsidiaries are slated to help Ashburn and more than 30 others have their wishes granted.

“This donation is surely a start, and I am grateful that I was nominated,” she said before admitting that despite her selection, she would do anything to help all the other nominees because she believes her God-given purpose is to help others in need.

Ashburn's self-sacrificing spirit and determination is a beacon of hope for all those around her and is the drive that keeps her positive and persevering despite her life-threatening condition and her need for more financial support. With that, this stalwart young woman looks forward to continuing her fight as she relies on her family, friends and faith to make her survival possible.


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