After Ashtyn’s cancer cells didn’t respond to the hideous first round of intense chemo in February, I believed the cancer wouldn’t be killed with the second round of chemo either. The second round included less intense drugs and up to this point, she had done everything the difficult way. I simply didn’t think the A.L.L chemo regimen would work. My thought was that the doctors would have to find a new batch of intense chemo drugs customized for Ashtyn that would be given over another month, and then her cancer cells would respond. I didn’t want Ashtyn to fear or get frustrated if the second round of chemo didn’t work so I prepared her for that possibility. I told Ashtyn from the time she started the second round of chemo that I didn’t think it would work. I was wrong. Completely wrong. I have never been so grateful and happy to be wrong.
The results from the Friday bone marrow aspirate came back showing no cancer cells. None. I’m still in slight disbelief. I thought back to the many prayers that have been said for Ashtyn. In the post “Ashtyn’s Army” I wrote, “There are church congregations around the world remembering Ashtyn. Her name has been added to prayer chains in different religions and is on the prayer lists at LDS Temples in many locations. She has been enrolled under the special patronage of Our Lady of Lourdes in France and Illinois. There are many families who pray for her morning and night. Children include Ashtyn in their prayers daily. Fasting and prayers have been dedicated to her with her specific needs in mind. Hundreds think of Ashtyn and hope the best for her.” I know for a surety that Ashtyn’s cancer would not have been killed by those chemo drugs had it not been for the faith of her Army. Of that I am absolutely certain.
Where do we go from here? The chemo killed all of the cancer cells however it also killed all of her normal white blood cells. Ashtyn’s body needs to produce white blood cells without new cancer cells returning. The current round of chemo is complete other than one more drug that will be given in four days. In the meantime she will stay in the hospital as her bone marrow starts making white blood cells. Now that her bone marrow is not full of cancer cells, there is plenty of room for new cells to grow. In two weeks the doctors suspect that she will have a steady incline of white blood cell production and will be able to go home for at least a week to further recover.
From years of cancer research and experience it has been shown that once cancer is gone, if treatments stop immediately the likelihood of cancer returning is significantly high. Therefore the fight must go on. In roughly three weeks Ashtyn will hopefully have built up a decent amount of white blood cells. Her absolute neutrophil count (ANC) will hopefully be near 750 to 1000. She will then have a bone marrow aspirate to determine if her bone marrow produced all healthy cells or if it produced more cancer cells. If there is still no sign of cancer, a new intense chemo regimen in preparation for a bone marrow transplant will be started. If her body makes more cancer cells, they now have an idea of what chemo works. In that case she would go through more rounds of chemo until she is in remission. Remission is when there are no cancer cells in the presence of a normal amount of white blood cells.
How does Ashtyn feel knowing that currently she has no evident cancer? The one word she used was “relieved.” She is relieved, rejuvenated, and happy. She is no longer climbing the walls to get out of the hospital. Knowing that she is “kicking cancer’s butt” and that “in a few weeks I get to go home for longer than just a couple of days” makes her content.
Ashtyn is feeling the best she’s felt in two months. With the steroids she has to take, her appetite is good and she is enjoying food. Other than the IV antibiotics she has to take during the day, she is not hooked up to an IV pole. Freedom! She is steady on her feet and can walk around the room and to the restroom without me by her side. Most of the day she is wide awake with very little napping. She does have pain in her legs and stomach probably associated with past chemo drugs. The pain is controlled easily with medicine. Her hematocrit, the volume percentage of red blood cells, is very low which affects Ashtyn’s energy and endurance. She is in bed a lot and is constantly bored but it’s “better than being way sick.”
We brought Easter to the hospital Sunday. Jason and Chandler spent time with Ashtyn during the day. I went to an hour of church and then home to cook breakfast. We cooked Belgian waffles, Danish pancakes, fresh hash-browns, bacon, and a huge bowl of fruit. Orange juice, lemonade, syrup, powdered sugar, and Nutella were packed up. At 2 pm we headed to the hospital. I received approval from the doctors to allow Ashtyn to leave her room and spend time with her family in the boardroom right outside the doors of the cancer unit. Jason and Chandler hid plastic Easter eggs all over the boardroom and Easter baskets in the cupboards. After the food was set out on the table and the eggs were in place, Ashtyn left her room and walked into the boardroom with the rest of the kids. As the kids filled their bags with eggs, Ashtyn sat on a comfortable chair and watched. She had just received a chemo drug four hours prior and didn’t have much energy. She wasn’t feeling very well so watching the action was good enough for her. After two hours of eating and talking, Ashtyn was ready to go back to her room. Stimulation is very exhausting for her.
Looking back at the last two months, the good has outweighed the bad by far. We have had moments of great joy. Ashtyn and I never get sick of each other and have really enjoyed the time we get to spend together. There have been times we’ve laughed and had fun conversations with staff. Visitors bring positive energy that is fun to feel. Acts of service have touched our hearts and lifted our burdens. When the outside world can be full of stress, commotion, and intensity, her hospital room is consistently peaceful, calm, and relaxing. There is such an amazing feeling in her room that is so enjoyable to bask in.
We are full of joy and gratitude that the recent chemotherapy has killed Ashtyn’s cancer cells. Thank you for your continual support. Thank you for the thoughts and prayers you have given.
“Everything starts from prayer.” –Mother Teresa. I believe that to be true. What a difference prayer has made for Ashtyn during this illness.
Mother Teresa was overheard whispering to one that was terminally ill, “you say a prayer in your religion, and I will say a prayer as I know it. Together we will say this prayer and it will be something beautiful for God.”