Thursday, June 27, 2013

A + M = Together, We Rule


Mikey & Me : circa 2006

In every relationship there are challenges. You don't always see eye to eye, you might bicker about trivial things, have some pet peeves that may drive you crazy. Even the most solid couples have their issues... it could be a difference in parenting styles, the occasional communication break down, not getting enough down time together, a recurring argument about finances or maybe a certain particular one of you is a bad back-seat driver and has a tendency to be a bit bossy in downtown Vancouver traffic... (Who? ME? Never!)

Throw cancer or other serious illness into the mix and you are bound for a daunting line up of all new kinds of obstacles, stresses, frustrations and feats to conquer. Sometimes these mountains get climbed together as a team. And sometimes sadly the heaviness of a cancer diagnosis is too much and the two paths may slowly grow further a part... or a person just bails all together.

Cancer really does take the term 'challenge' to a whole new level when it comes to relationships. On one hand it will test you and your partner's strength... but it also helps take the heat off of all of those other silly little things you used to argue about. Those dirty socks on the floor or nagging reminders no longer hold as much weight. A life threatening illness or scare of losing your loved one will do that. It will also help you see what really matters and make you see how precious your life, your relationships and loved ones truly are. Not that you didn't know this before, but it just elevates your emotions and makes you recognize so much more that we are often a little aloof about before staring down something as serious as cancer.

In the Summer of 2010 Mike and I had our first dose of this kind of relationship shake-up. We were going on 6 years of our togetherness and things were generally pretty good. It was a hot sunny July and Mike was not feeling like himself which was extremely odd for him. After a walk-in doctor visit and some blood work Mike was called by the clinic physician the following day to go to the emergency room at St. Mary's Hospital as soon as possible. No explanation was given on the phone but we soon learned that his blood cell count was really low. Normal red blood cell count is around 120-160 and he was sitting at 30.

At first we thought he might just need a blood transfusion but upon further review the ER physician said that Mike had anti-bodies in his blood which would reject any other blood at this point - so a transfusion was not possible. Several tests later we were told we needed to get on the first ferry the next day and go to the ER at Vancouver General because no one at St. Mary's knew what was wrong with him and he would need to see a hematologist. 

At VGH Mike was met by several specialists, interns, residents and nurses. He had more than 30 different vials of blood samples taken and they were hunting for all possible causes of this drop in blood count and strange presence of anti-bodies. Neither issue could be explained and even though we tried to hide it, we both knew the other was scared. 

Waiting for answers at VGH : 2010
Sitting beside him, seeing his worried face I got a glimpse of what it was like to be a helpless loved one. You want so badly to comfort and give support... You want to be able to tell them it's going to be OK and that you will protect them from anything bad. You want to be the strong one but are holding back from falling apart. I didn't want to leave his side and even ended up getting a reclining chair to sleep beside him in the ACU room he later was moved to. When the doctors would ask if I was his wife I would say yes even though we were not technically married. I wanted to be as close to him as possible in any way I could at that time. And the fact that I was just merely a 'girlfriend' or common-law spouse was not enough for me. 

Worst case scenarios played out in my mind and though we later both brought it up, we did not dare utter the word cancer during this unknown diagnosis period. But soon we had some possible answers after his CT scan came out normal and all other blood tests showed no signs of trouble. They were next going to be testing to see if he had an auto-immune disease by giving him a dose of steroids... not the 'I pump iron' variety but the anti-inflammatory immune suppressant type. This one was Prednisone... which we later re-named PREGnisone because of the weight gain and mood swings it causes. 

48 hours later we spoke to the hematology specialist who reported that the Prednisone was working and Mike was given an official diagnosis of Auto-Immune Hemolytic Anemia. Basically his own immune system was attacking his red blood cells for no real apparent reason. To this day we still don't know what caused it and we may never know. We were just so very lucky that it was treatable with the drugs and that now 3 years later he is healthy and has had no recurrence, even though he was told he probably would.

The take-control head shave : April 2012
Now fast forward to December 15, 2011 when I first was told that the lump in my boob was suspicious... I kept thinking back to Mike's health scare and how it just couldn't be possible that we would both have something so serious like this so close together. How and why were we both facing these bizarre tests, scans and hospital experiences at such a young age? My theories on this I could get into right now but I will save that for another time. 

All I know is that I think Mike's blood disorder anomaly may have prepared us for what was about to happen to me. The waiting and unknowns is so difficult in the first stages of any serious health scare. But I think had we not been through Mike's case first we may have been even more torn up waiting for my results. And although Mike has had a clean bill of health ever since, I would be lying if I said I never worried about him now. For me, anything could happen at anytime for all of us. I don't actively think this way 24/7 but the concern for him does hold a little space in my mind every so often. I think cancer heightened this worry and acute awareness for me though... I am, after all, on quite high alert these days ever since my own multi-factorial 'sporadic' diagnosis of breast cancer. Read: it was not genetic therefore we have no clue what caused it. Read: Not knowing is terrifying because you always wonder if it will return because you don't know what to avoid in order to keep it from happening again. And so begins the cycle of fear... *insert catatonic stare into the deep dark abyss of worry and fear here* 

Chemo done : July 2012
But fear and health challenges aside, Mike and I have really shown each other what the other is made of these passed few years. Thankfully, cancer has really strengthened us as individuals but also in our relationship and although there have definitely been some tough times in the last year and half I am very lucky to have had such a supportive and caring partner by my side. When I say Mike has really been amazing throughout this whole cancer craziness, I mean it. I feel like I am bragging because he is just that awesome. He has been such a rockstar caregiver and I am just one lucky girl I tell ya! ;)

We have definitely seen a lot together and times have been good, bad, scary, frustrating... but in tough times I am always comforted when Mike is with me. And even more so since the shit we have had to go through in the last few years. We could be in a horrible traffic jam... waiting for my oncologist... on the floor of a leaky bus in Thailand... dealing with awful news... facing life altering decisions...  Those moments are either just not fun or very hard to come to terms with - but they are always made a little bit easier because we are together.

As you might guess, that strong urge to be Mike's wife and to be married never left after that Summer in 2010. It became important to us and we often talked about eloping to Tofino... or Hawaii... but we were taking our time and not rushing things. Then cancer hit and once again we were being challenged and were soon facing all kinds of stressful decisions and scary unknowns.  It may sound strange but I think cancer helped accelerate our plan to tie the knot.

We finally were engaged in March last year in between preserving embryos and me starting chemo. We had a great series of engagement shots done by my friend Phil before I lost my hair. And now with treatment behind me (minus being on Tamoxifen for 4.5 more years) and after being together almost 9 years to the day, Mike and I are getting hitched this weekend on June 29. Hurrah! :)

Ahhh wedding planning... That has been interesting. 

I often shake my head at myself for wanting to plan something like this so soon after dealing with cancer because my stress levels haven't really been given much of a break. I had no idea that even a small little wedding could still be so much work. Either way I am happy we are doing it the way we are - although we do wish we could have afforded to do it with more family and friends.

Wedding prep stress aside, I am over the moon to be marrying my best friend in less than 2 days. After everything we have been through together it just makes this day that much sweeter. Mike says he is the lucky one, but I think I scored pretty fabulously with the kind, caring, patient and giving soul that he is and I could not ask for a better person to spend the rest of my life with. I am fricking stoked! :)

Love you Mikey xoxo

Being freaks : circa 2004


  1. Ah, I love LOVE. Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. It's crazy right until you walk down that aisle, and then the entire day becomes yours and Mike's. I am wishing you a marriage of love, happiness and health. ~Catherine

    1. Thank you so much dear Catherine... It was totally our day. Loved every minute of it :)

  2. I can't even begin to tell you how happy I am for you Ashley. Wishing you all the love, health, happiness and beautiful wedding weather in the world. I'll be thinking of you tons on Saturday! xoxoxo

  3. Awesome, Ashley! Congratulations!!! Henna henna :)

  4. Congratulations Ashley and Mike! I am so happy and excited for the both of you. You both deserve this wonderful happiness in your life after all that you've been through. I'll be thinking about you tomorrow and I know that everything will be just perfect. xoxo. - Jessi

    1. Hey Jessi... thanks so much for the well wishes! :) It was magical!

  5. What a beautiful post. I know exactly what you mean about your (now) husbands illness preparing you for your cancer, my husband and went through a similar thing when we were first married and it definitely made us stronger and prepared us for anything. I hope your wedding was all you had hoped for and more and you are enjoying being Mrs B xxMarisa Calo

    1. Hey Marisa! So scary having to face these times... I am glad that you and your husband made it through... it totally prepared us both I believe. Hugs to you! xo