Ashleigh's cancer killing warriors

$25,410 of $28,000 goal

Raised by 146 people in 9 months
Created November 5, 2018
Bev Peterson
on behalf of Ashleigh And Jordan Dueck
Hello, my friends and family.

Our family has recently entered a new season of challenges, and I want to share with you what is happening.

The last few weeks have been filled with medical appointments, and I have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. At this point, it is unclear how far the cancer has spread, but we do know it has spread to some of the surrounding lymph nodes.

I am in the middle of several meetings with a medical team, and they will set out a treatment plan. If it is still localized, I will be having chemotherapy and radiation, followed by surgery, and then more chemo.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of difficulties in this new reality, especially as we try to navigate this with three kids and a baby. One thing we have learned from our previous seasons of medical troubles is that we can do hard things, especially because we have such an amazing community of support, both near and far.

I don’t have answers for what the future is going to contain, but I do know I want to walk bravely into this new wilderness. I want to remain awake to my loved ones, my self, and all that is within this space—even when that means being awake in the darkness. The One Who is Love is in the darkness, too.

If you are someone who prays, I ask you to pray that I will live these days well.

We also ask you to hold in your hearts and your prayers,

- our three little girls who have already had to go through times of stress and a sense of instability, and who are wary of and discouraged by the upcoming hospital stay and appointments I will have

- Skandar, as I try to figure out how to best care for his little baby self in this time

- effective and timely medical appointments and treatments

- practical needs to be met in the coming days (such as child care, house cleaning, pet care, meals, snow removal)

- financial needs, as Jordan will be working less and we will be trying to manage unforeseen costs

As I step into this wilderness with Jordan and our children, I am heartened by knowing our people.

So many of you have consistently shown up for us in the past, and I am incredibly grateful that we have you.

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Medical Update
by ashleighdueck
Hello, friends.

Here is a little update on my medical journey, for those of you who have been wondering.

A few weeks ago, I had an appointment with my medical oncologist to discuss the results of the CT and treatment plans moving forward. To be honest, I was more than a little nervous about this meeting. Walking into the building, I could feel my body tensing up. The only other times we had been there, we had been given unexpected, difficult news. It's amazing how our bodies remember and communicate things to us. Thankfully, she didn't waffle on {unlike me}, and, after "good morning" she let us know that the chemo is doing its job.

Huge exhale.

The thing is, the type of cancer I have is not always responsive to chemo.

But the cancer in my body is responding.

Thank God.

The cancer in my body {that we know about} is located in a tumour in my rectum and in a few lymph nodes. Two of those lymph nodes are distal sites, which bumped me up to stage IV. Those two nodes are what they are tracking, and they both have shrunk to half the size measured at the previous CT. My oncologist is "very pleased" with the progress, which are wonderful words to hear. The chemo has not only halted the spread of the cancer, but is killing it.

Moving forward, I am continuing this aggressive chemo treatment for at least three more months. Hitting this hard during the first six months (minimum) of treatment is key. When we get to round 12, there will be another CT and another reassessment of the treatment plan. The hope is that the chemo will shrink the cancer enough to give us a shot at surgery. My surgical oncologist said it may take a year of chemo to get there. But we may get there.

For now, I am thankful for the news that every round of chemo is killing the cancer.

Today, Willie is here again with his guitar, and my favourite nurse is providing my treatment. Amongst many things, I am weary, but I am here. And I'm killing cancer. Round 8.
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by ashleighdueck
{I wrote this post three weeks ago, but didn't publish it for some reason. Here it is now.}


Sometimes waiting is quite delightful. The anticipation of something wonderful or exciting can be so good I can taste it. I walk around with a vibration in my body and the taste of anticipation in my mouth.

Waiting can be so boring it makes my head feel flat. I don't often get bored waiting because, being a nine on the enneagram, I can easily slip into an internal space wherever I am. If I can't do that—like when I'm in the doctor's waiting room with ALL my little ones—boredom can hit hard.

Sometimes waiting brings with it excruciating pain. There are many different scenarios people walk in every day that carry so much weight and pain in the waiting. I know the stories of some of you, and I know they involve painful waiting. Waiting for a child. Waiting for a job. Waiting for answers. Waiting.

It involves both fear and hope. Hope that what is longed for will come to be; fear that it won’t. Fear that we will come to the end of waiting and find what we dread.

Right now, I am in many different places of waiting. One of these is waiting to find out if the aggressive chemotherapy treatment has been effective, and if so, how much. I am sitting in cancer care right now. There is a kind-faced gentleman who plays his classical guitar for us patients every Monday; he is playing as I start my sixth round of chemo. After this round, I will have a CT which will give us more insight into the nature of the cancer I have, and if chemo is going to be an effective treatment or not. This test will shed light on the possibility of other key treatments. The hope and the fear are both present with powerful force.

How does one sit with the unknowns of waiting? It is uncomfortable. It is often lonely. There is often a frenzied drive to lash down some kind of certainty. To force the unknown and the disorienting and the painful into some kind of neat package. To have a plan in the middle of the unknown. Because we can’t bear this feeling of not knowing the crucial information and not being able to control the answers.

Here’s the thing; I cannot control the answers. There is so much that I cannot control and that I cannot know. But I can choose how I am going to live within this time. I cannot make a Plan for the Rest of Treatment, but I can make a plan for how to live today.

Here’s my plan.

I am here.

Today, I am here.

I will greet the difficult feelings and thoughts as they arise, and I will choose to either let them pass by, or I will engage with them for a while and feel the deep feelings. I will not waste my energy on fruitless, frantic effort to force the unknowns into answers when I am stuck in the waiting. I will take a deep breath, and I will stop straining to see the future, and bring my attention to what is right now, right here. As close as my breath, as close as the wind on my cheek, as close as my daughter’s hand in mine.

The waiting will come to an end, and it will bring its cocktail of potential joy, sorrow, pain, and healing. I will not close my eyes to what may lay ahead—but I will not keep my eyes there so long that I miss what is in my present. Within the waiting, I will meet the pain, but I will also greet the joy and beauty that lie within today. I will look for Love, I will place my hand in that Hand, and I will do the little things of today with great love. I will allow Love in the the painful space of waiting, in the space of fear and hope. Because no matter what the answers are, I know the Holy Love will be there when all else is laid bare. I cannot control what will be revealed, but I know I want to be held by that Hand when I find out.
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by ashleighdueck
My body.

As some of you are aware, my body has been through some difficult times already. There came a point where people began remarking: "Of course, this happened to you. If it's extreme/random/unlikely, it's going to happen to Ashleigh."

Now, this looks harsh written out. At first it didn't feel harsh; it felt true. And the people who say this do not mean to be hurtful AT ALL. In fact, I think they are trying to offer a kind of witnessing. They are not wanting to dismiss that, in some lights, I've had more than my "fair share." {Although there is no "fair share" in reality.}

And I can't blame them. I have lived with an attitude toward my body that ranges from resignation to infuriation. When I was 11-12, I developed a mysterious infection that turned out to be a kind of pneumonia transmitted by cats.… The year I was 18, I had a series of concussions from skiing and sports that culminated in a camping concussion and resulted in an extremely difficult head injury. I had to put off university for a year because I couldn't make simple decisions or make sense of a computer screen. {Thankfully, my brain fully healed with the exception of number retention: a VERY minor although often humbling blip to live with.}… Just before Jordan and I got married, I developed mono: a totally typical thing for a college student living with how many?—four?—other young women in a two bed apartment and not getting ANY sleep. BUT. Wait for it. My liver and my spleen swelled up to such extraordinary sizes that my stomach collapsed, and all sorts of specialists paraded through my room to poke and prod and look at my "most unusual case." Our wedding was postponed and we took a wheelchair on our honeymoon.… Each of my pregnancies has involved HG, to increasing extents.… My second trimester with Nienna was complete bedrest because there was a growth which made losing our baby the likely scenario (thank God, she is now a thriving eight year old! I have not had to experience that searing, unbelievable loss.)… During my pregnancy with Cressida, I developed kidney stones. Again, not uncommon during pregnancy. But mine blocked my ureter, causing my left kidney to rupture, and I was close to being septic. {Don't do that. It's really hellish.}… When I was at the end of my second trimester with Skandar, I had an appendectomy, which, amazingly, is not super uncommon…

Neither is cancer. Cancer is very, very, very common. We are all living so close to it.

However, I am part of a new cohort of otherwise healthy men and women in their twenties and thirties developing colorectal cancer. I fit none of the risk factors. In the past, the profile of someone with my type of cancer and stage would be at least a couple decades older than myself—until recently, when people like me began showing up in higher numbers, raising many questions in the medical community.

ANYHOW. Now that you have a litany of my strange medical issues, you can see why someone might say, "Of course this is happening to Ashleigh."

The unintended side-effect of that attitude is that I began to feel this shame towards my body. I began to feel an unhealthy resignation. Rather than flexibility and adaptability, this kind of observation began to make me feel like giving up.

Child-birth and running were two of the first things that began to help me change my perspective. Not only could I come face-to-face with hard things—I could choose how to engage them, and I could kick ass. Ask my older brothers: there has always been this side to me that just won't give up, even when all the chips are down and it's clear I've lost. {Such as when a boy 4-6 years older than me was sitting on top of me, pounding me, and I'd still be trash-talking.} When I started giving that side of me its voice, I began seeing all these things as things I've overcome and I began to see myself as strong, rather than as weak and shameful and not enough. After Nienna was born, the subsequent health issues each began teaching me and leading me towards a lot of beautiful truths and experiences. Even as they totally tore me down. I am NOT saying I floated blissfully through these events. These beauties are the beauties that come out of engaging with the pain, and letting others join me.

In the first weeks after dropping the bomb "I have stage IV colorectal cancer" on my dear ones, our little family was flooded with so much kindness and support. Some of the first face-to-face encounters that stand out to me include those, who, like my father-in-law, have seen me walk (or army crawl) through health storms before. He hugged me and told me, "You are brave. You can do this. You are one of the strongest women I know." There were other types of first responses that also have really helped and stood out, but, the ones that relate to my strength and courage are the ones that touch on this new thing:

Compassion for my body.

You see, one of the side effects of seeing myself as strong and brave, is that I can look at my body from a position of agency and strength, rather than of resignation and shame.

Our dear friends sent Jordan and I to a day at Thermëa Spa (oh, heaven!), and my sister-in-law provided child care. One of the spectacular gifts of Jordan and I both identifying as Nines on the Enneagram, is that we can really relax together. Towards the end of the day, Jordan asked me how I was doing. I told him that what kept reverberating around my heart and head was, "My poor body," along with other sentences of kindness, compassion, and gentle-heartedness towards this cancerous, toxin-filled body.

Since then, I'm trying to make this a discipline; to have my inner dialogue be filled with compassion for my body. If I can't muster it in my own voice, I hear that of my Jordan, my dear friend Karla, and my dear friend Anna (especially when I want a little attitude with the compassion.)

Why am I writing this? Friends, it took a long time and a lot of struggling to get to a place where I can meet my flawed, hurting, sick, failing body with compassion and kindness. To see myself as having strength beyond the confines of health issues I cannot control. I would ask you to try to see yourself—whatever that struggle—with compassion. It doesn't make the problems go away, but it does help sustain us through the hardship. I hope it can make me look a little more like the God of Love who died for this body of mine.
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Posted on December 21, 2018
The Longest Night Run
Tonight, there are people—actual people—stepping out into the cold, dark winter night and running or walking as a way to join me and my family in our darkness. This is surreal and beautiful and full of meaning for me.

Some of you beautiful people don’t even know me or my family. We sat around our sabbath table tonight, reading your names aloud. My daughter tugged at my sleeve, her blue eyes filled with concern, “Mama, I’m worried. What if this is too much?” Tonight, you taught her how love expands—that when love is given, more love is generated. That love is abundant, and that we can receive it. Tonight, you taught our girls that we do not have to walk in our darkness alone, and that they can join others in their darkness.

It has been a long, hard week. As I tuck in bed with my baby and my husband, I feel peace. I feel cradled by your feet, your breath in the cold, night air, your courage in the dark, and your prayers. Thank you, dear souls, for joining me in this beautiful way.
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$25,410 of $28,000 goal

Raised by 146 people in 9 months
Created November 5, 2018
Bev Peterson
on behalf of Ashleigh And Jordan Dueck
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