Wednesday, November 9, 2016

30 Days of Thankful: Ashton Mantolino

Today, the beautiful Ashton will be sharing her story as part of the hey sister campaign, 30 Days of Thankful. My heart is heavy today and I opened Ashton's story to remind myself that we have a power. We can share. We can grow. We can listen. Part of the magic of our lives is that we have one. A life to discover, unfold, love, and fight for the kind of world we want. Enjoy the read, xo.

This year has been a whole new world to me.  Being diagnosed with cancer was not on my “to do” list before I die, but somehow it crept onto what I needed to conquer before I turned 30—or even started a life of my own!  My name is Ashton Mantolino and I started my journey this year of post college, first year teaching and the battle with Non Hodgkin’s diffused large B cell lymphoma, stage II. 
              I remember the day I was diagnosed. I was in the hospital after a biopsy to my chest with a tumor 15 cm right over my heart (close to the size of a pencil). I was weak, tired and panicking about unplanned lessons for the upcoming week, not realizing that a week after my surgery, I’d be resigning from my job after less than 3 months as a second grade teacher.

              My doctor walked in and my heart flipped. “So Ashton, my name is Dr. Gollard, I am going to be following you for awhile. Your diagnosis is Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma…”  I remember his voice trailed off and everything went quiet. My whole life flashed before me. I zoned back into reality and felt my mom tightening her grip on my hand, she laughed in relief and said, “Thank God!” like it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. I felt angry at first because to me cancer was cancer-- didn’t matter what kind, but lymphoma’s survival rate was high and that was her greatest relief. It took me a long time to accept it and it took me a long time to understand that it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to me… dying was.  I learned that I was part of the 2% of lymphoma patients diagnosed with anterior mediastinal lymphoma, meaning that most lymphoma patients have tumors in their lymph nodes found in their neck, groin, and abdominal areas and mine was surrounding my heart vessels.

              I admit it scared me. A 90% survival rate sounded relieving to the ears but 90% was still just 90%.  In my first treatment I was confined to the hospital for almost a month.  I hardly remember my first treatment but it was after, that I vividly remember most.  On the 4th day of my chemo infusion, I woke up in the middle of the night to use the restroom; my mom helped me up and sat me down onto the toilet. I remember looking up at her and that was it.  I woke up and bright lights were on in my room, I felt the tile underneath my body, the smell of blood, at least 10 pairs of eyes on me and the sound of my mother’s voice screaming my name.  Somehow, I developed a GI bleed from all the medications I was on and not eating that it created multiple ulcers in my stomach that were not caught in time. I bled out and passed out from it. I almost lost my life that night from internal bleeding and my heart slowing down to a mere 45 bpm. I received nine blood transfusions after.   Two weeks after, I contracted a really bad infection and no one was allowed in my room without a gown, a mask, and gloves.  I felt like an experiment. I remember my primary doctor told me as I laid there hopelessly one day that this was the worst it was ever going to get and that I had to fight. She said, “You are too young to give up. Just think, one day you’ll get married, you’ll have babies, you’ll have a life… but you can’t if you lay here and you give up.”  I knew then, that all the prayers in the world would help but not save me, I had to save myself. 

              Being the person I am, I’ve learned to fight for what truly belongs to me and I know deep down inside this was just another chance for me to show the universe that the challenges it threw at me wouldn’t stop me.  I finished my last round of chemo on October 11th. I did six rounds of a vigorous regimen that often left me in pain, exhausted and questioning God at times… but as I write this now, I find the most gratefulness in my heart.  I gained a completely different perspective on how I look at life.  I found a whole new appreciation for human uniqueness during my transitions of hair loss, weight gain from the chemo, and accepting who I’ve become.  I am a warrior of life and I don’t plan to stop!

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