Lela Ashley shares her journey through breast cancer

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Lela Ashley, wife, mother and teacher, is sharing her journey through breast cancer in hopes it will help others. She never wanted the attention cancer brought, but she learned people just want to help and be supportive. She said everyone will help you get through the process if you will let them. Fighting cancer together is easier than standing alone.

Lela Ashley poses with fellow teachers, staff and students at Buffalo Island Central on the day she took her last treatment. (photo provided)

Lela and her husband, John, live in Monette and have two young daughters, Ella and Ava (ages 1 and 9). Lela teaches pre-kindergarten at Buffalo Island Central West Elementary.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2015, Lela had a double mastectomy in February and had treatments March, April and May. Her final reconstruction surgery was in July and will take preventative medicine for 10 years.

Lela remembers well the day she was diagnosed. She got a phone call at work and a nurse confirmed she did have breast cancer. The nurse then asked what oncologist she wanted to use.

"I said, 'Ummm," can I call you right back?'"

She left her classroom and went to Kima Stewart's office, who is her principal and her friend, and told her about the news she has just received and asked her what she needed to do.

"It was my first year teaching in the BIC School District and I believe God placed me here at the perfect time because Kima helped me through every step of my journey," Lela said. "Her daughter is a breast cancer survivor so she knew how to help lead me in the right direction."

She called and told her husband.

"When I got home, I told him it is going to be okay because it has to be and he agreed," Lela said. "We have held to that same attitude throughout the journey.

"Throughout the process I never felt like I had cancer. The treatments were rough but I always told my husband this doesn't seem real and I don't feel like I have cancer. Before all of this happened, if someone had asked me how I would have reacted to having cancer, I would have said 'Oh, my goodness, I would have a breakdown and be an emotional mess.'"

In reality she was the opposite to what she thought she would be.

"The waiting was the worst," Lela said. "We all stayed positive and prayed a lot. There were tears and laughter through it all. I think keeping a good sense of humor helps."

Lela did not miss much work. She went even when she did not feel like it on some days. Worked helped her stay positive. This is her 14th year teaching and she loves spending her days guiding and teaching kids.

"I never realized how blessed I am to have such a loving God, friends, family, church and community," she said. "Having cancer was not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be."

She admits there were some difficult times.

"The first day I told my best friend, 'I can't do no hair,'" she said. "Easter was approaching and I said I don't think it will fall out before Easter. She responded by telling me she could not believe I was worried about my hair. She said we need to get rid of this cancer and you will look beautiful. She was right. I should not have worried about it because hair is overrated. I had silly worries like that and more serious ones."

Her greatest fear was leaving behind her three reasons for living, her husband, John, and her two daughters, Ella and Ava.

"My advice to anyone who faces cancer is lean on your friends and family," she said. "Let them help you becuase you can't do it by yourself. Also, do everything at your own pace. Don't shave your head until you feel like you are ready. Don't uncover your head afterwards until you are ready. Don't talk about it until you are ready. Follow your heart when it comes to handling the whole process. No one will judge you. It is amazing how much the medical field has to offer. They are learning more and making medical advances every day. My oncologist is continuously keeping me up to date on new testing, medicines and how we are going to prevent this disease from returning. Cancer is not fun, but in my case the process is doable."

Lela is quick to offer any help she can give to others.

"Talking to others who had been through it helped me," she said. "I am willing to help anyone as much as I can."

She encourages everyone to have regular medical screenings and check ups when it is time. Women should do monthly breast exams. Early detection is best.

Her advice to those who have a loved one with cancer is to just be there for them and let them deal with things at their own pace and in their own way.

"My supporters were my husband, daughters, family, friends, Mustang family, former co-workers, Monette First United Methodist Church as well as other local churches. God has blessed me with so many amazing people in my life and I thank him for them every day. When asked to do this article, I was very hesitant but I hope my story helps someone, somewhere. I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped me throughout the journey. Thank you for watching my kids when I couldn't, listening to me complain about cancer, taking me to my appointments, prayers, food, cards, phone calls, and the list goes on and on. Most of all, thanks for keeping it normal. I have a close group of best friends and family and teach with a wonderful group of teachers. Having every day conversations and not focusing on cancer has kept me normal. Every cancer journey is different. I tried to keep my life normal and I did not want cancer to define my life and it didn't. It was just a small part of my life's story. I hold to the scripture, Phillipians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

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