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My View: You have to stay strong when battling cancer

By Ashley Johnston

“But you’re so young.” These words have resonated loudly in my mind over and over again in the last year. Yes, statistically, a 28-year-old should be planning other major life events that do not include a double mastectomy, 16 rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, endocrine therapy and several reconstructive surgeries. I can’t help but think about how different my mid-20s have been compared with most, and it’s easy to let the anxiety, panic and fear set in. But I believe that no matter what life throws my way, it’s important to handle it with faith, positivity and a smile.

Being 28 and newly diagnosed with breast cancer, I was naturally worried and scared about several things that were about take place. But through the amazing support of family, friends and a wonderful boyfriend, I realized hair will grow back, one day I will have a female figure again and, most importantly, I will be cancer free!

When it came time to choose my surgical approach, I opted for a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Whether it’s your breasts or some other body part that must be sacrificed to eliminate cancer, it’s never an easy decision. I was most nervous for the moment when I would wake up from surgery and look down and see nothing. The key to success in this situation is your mentality. Staying positive and finding the good in the situation helps pull you through the bad times.

When I was in recovery in the hospital, the nurse asked me if I wanted a moment alone to look at myself in the mirror. I decided to have my mom stay with me for support. So I removed my glamorous hospital gown and took a good long look. No, it wasn’t the prettiest sight to see, but then I took a deep breath and said to myself: This is just a steppingstone to the new healthy me. Each day, I would look in the mirror and recite some positive affirmation to myself to help me realize everything would be OK because the cancer is gone and I am healthy.

After the double mastectomy, my plastic surgeon and his medical team reconstructed a brand new chest for me. They were miracle workers who also helped rebuild my confidence. The American Cancer Society’s Look Good Feel Better program helped, too.

The key thing to remember throughout treatment is to stay positive and remind yourself this is only temporary. Hair will grow back, and your body will be healthy and physically normal soon enough. If you need a confidence builder, try writing a daily positive note about yourself and sticking it on your mirror. Pretty soon you will have a whole bulletin board of positive affirmations to help rebuild your self-esteem.

So here I am, one year later, cancer-free. I participated in the Making Strides against Breast Cancer Walk at Canalside on Oct. 15. When I walked into the survivors’ tent and was presented with a shirt that read “Survivor,” I broke down and cried. After all the emotional ups and downs and fighting, I did it. I can say I am a survivor and I beat cancer!

I celebrated my one-year survivorship the best way I knew how – by participating in the Buffalo Bills Billieve event. On Oct. 16, I stood in front of 70,000 people at New Era Field with my all-time favorite NFL team and showed everyone just how strong you can be when being strong is your only option. Always know you have strength and courage inside of you, no matter the age.

Ashley Johnston lives in Niagara Falls. She loves travel, the Buffalo Bills and retail therapy.

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