MBC Week – Emotional Impact

Real Pink – Ep 134 – Ashley Fernandez

[00:00:00] Adam Walker: In honor of national breast cancer awareness month. If you’d like to join the fight against breast cancer, please go to www.komen.org and donate today.

From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room. This week on the Real Pink podcast, we are having real conversations about metastatic breast cancer. We’ll be welcoming people living with metastatic breast cancer to share their stories, their experiences, and their words of incurred.

Everyone can make a difference in the life of someone living with the disease by donating to breakthrough research. Living with metastatic breast cancer is overwhelming. There’s a lot of information to process, emotions to deal with, and a constant balancing act between the reality of dealing with your disease and trying to stay present and live your best life.

Although metastatic breast cancer cannot be cured today, it can be treated. Treatment focuses on extending life and maintaining quality of life and as treatments improve, so does survival. Our guest today is a young mom and is here to share her story of living with metastatic breast cancer and how she holds onto hope for a cure through research.

Ashley, welcome to the show.

[00:01:29] Ashley Fernandez: Thanks so much for having me well,

[00:01:30] Adam Walker: so good to meet you. I’m excited to talk with you as let’s dive in, let’s start with your breast cancer story. Can you tell us about your diagnosis and what was going on in your life at that time? Sure first, let me

[00:01:43] Ashley Fernandez: introduce myself. My name is Ashley

I’m 34 years old and I’m currently living in Bellbrook, Ohio. Um, my husband’s in the military, so we move wherever the military sends us. So we’ve been living in a whole bunch of different places, which is really, really cool. Um, my breast cancer story starts in 2018. Um, I found. And I went to the doctor that told it was nothing was probably a cyst, like not to worry about it.

I was too young to even worry. So I let it go. But then something. A month later, it was still there. So something kind of triggered me where I was like, oh wait, no, this is something serious. I need to go back. So I got seen in military hospitals and I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. There’s a big referral process.

So you have to go see a doctor, get a referral and see another doctor. So I had a hard time getting that referral. Long story short, I ended up advocating for myself and we found out that I had cancer. I ended up having, um, metastatic breast cancer from the beginning. And if you don’t know what metastatic breast cancer is, it’s where the cancer starts in the breasts, but travels to other places of your body, like the brain, the bones, the lungs.

Different organs? Um, yes. So in 2018 in April, I figured out that I had it all over my bones. So I am living with stage four metastatic breast cancer with extensive.

[00:03:14] Adam Walker: Wow. That is, I mean, that’s gotta be just an absolute shock of an original, an initial diagnosis. So just talk about that. Like how, how was that experience and how did you sort of remain positive and where did you draw strength from?

[00:03:30] Ashley Fernandez: So if I could be completely honest, the first day I got the news, I was a wrecking ball. Like, you know, You’re like, okay, we’re going to go in there. What’s the worst that can happen. You know, when you hear about breast cancer, you see all the commercials, you see all the pink and you’re like, oh yes, you’re going to be cured.

Like when you find out you have stage four, it completely changes. Cause it’s no longer cheer, right? Like they can treat you, they can help. You have like the best quality of life you have now. But unfortunately there’s not a cure. So I had a doctor come in and she said, Hey, I know this is hard. I want you to know that it isn’t curable, but it is treatable and research is happening every day.

So don’t give up. And I said, okay, okay. I went home and I was just crying and I was a mess. I had a three-year-old at that time. And I would just look at her and cry. Well, that night, the very next day of my diagnosis, I just couldn’t complain. I’m a positive person in general, but I just couldn’t handle the emotions.

So I dropped my knees and. And I remember just asking God to take this away. And if you can’t that’s okay. Like if it’s as well. Okay. Help me get through it. Give me his peace and allow me to do it that night. I just felt like an overwhelming comfort blanket. And I’ve been peaceful and hopeful ever since now.

I’m not going to say it’s like every day, because of course, you know, feelings are validated and we all have hard moments and struggle, but definitely my faith is a big, big aspect of how I keep going, because I just continue to think of, Hey, what are my God’s promises? What does he say? Okay. Then that’s, what’s going to be, you know, and a lot of times as humans, we try to control our situation.

Like we’re not in control of anything. Yeah. Like as much as I want to say, oh yeah, I’m going to do this, this, this, this, and this is going to help me with my cancer. Like, it might help the symptoms or the side effects, but ultimately, like it’s not in our control. Right. It’s just the hands out, which is unfortunate.

But another place that I get my strength from is my little girl. My daughter’s name is Davin. She’s six years old. Now she’s a first grade. We just started last week and it’s. So amazing. But I look at her and she’s always watching me, like, she’s my shadow, you know? So she’s always watching. So I want to make sure that I’m presenting myself in a way that she knows that yes, we have difficulties and yes, difficulties are hard and they’re true, but our circumstances are what we make of them.

[00:05:50] Adam Walker: That’s right. That’s right. I mean, that’s, that’s so true. You know, it, it is. So many things are difficult and so many things are beyond our control, but, but to your point, like our circumstances are really what we make of them. And I do love kind of the positive. Uh, aura, ARRA, whatever it is that you have. I mean, you’re super smiley, you know, obviously people are listening, they can’t see you, but you have an infectious smile and certainly a joy about you.

And I really appreciate that. So, um, and so it sounds like, you know, you mentioned your family, it sounds like you’ve got a great support system. I mean, tell me more about the people in your life and the ways they’ve been able to have.

[00:06:25] Ashley Fernandez: Oh, my goodness. I literally have the best team shout out to Ash and squad, but, um, my team consists of my family, which is my husband.

My mom, my little girl are here with us most of the time. And my mom’s name is Maria. She’s having seen it. Um, when my husband can’t help me, she’s here and she takes care of. Carlos takes care of me. She takes care of Carlos and my baby, you know, like she takes care of all of us. So we’re all getting the services and you need just by mother’s love.

So I’m really thankful that we’re able to have that my husband is just outstanding. His name is Carlos, and he’s so supportive in every single way that you could imagine. You know, when you go through this, you don’t think at 30 years old, you’re going to need your husband to be, you know, washing you or helping you, or it’s just a different level of intimacy and realness.

It’s pretty, awful and embarrassing at first, but then it’s. It’s so glorious to know that you have a partner that’s willing to do all that with you, you know, stay through the hard and the rough, cause it’s not easy peasy. It’s not peaches and cream, even though my way. Sounds like no, it is cause it’s joyous, but no, there’s really hard and there’s difficulties and he’s there every step of the way.

Just last night I was kicking my brains out, you know? He was like, Hey, it’s going to be okay. And it’s so nice to just know that I have him to lean on and when I’m not strong, he is, and you know, or an awesome team. So I’m really, really thankful for Carlos.

[00:07:53] Adam Walker: I love that.

[00:07:55] Ashley Fernandez: I have like this huge network of family we’re Hispanic.

So I’m like one of 26 cousins. Yeah. And they’re all in Chicago basically. So they’re only five hours away. So we have a huge network of family support, and they’re only a phone call away if we need anybody, which is really kind, but also here in Ohio, I have my church family and they do all kinds of things.

Like just now they’re doing a 21 day prayer challenge for me because I’m struggling in different aspects. Like there might be progression happening. And I don’t know if you know what progression means, but that means that the cancer has spread. So right now we’re looking at my lungs and it looks like there might be cancer there.

So we’re just praying and hoping that another miracle will happen because it’s a miracle that I wake up every day.

[00:08:38] Adam Walker: Oh, that’s a good perspective. That’s a great perspective. So, so you mentioned your, your daughter, I think you said she was three when you were diagnosed. I think you mentioned she’s six. Now, talk to me about being a young mom.

What emotions does that bring up for you as it relates to your diagnosis and your hope for the future?

[00:08:56] Ashley Fernandez: Being a young mom with cancer is one thing. Right. But being a young man with metastatic breast cancer is a whole nother story because basically know that your life’s dangling in front of you. Right?

Like you look at her. Well, I look at my daughter and I see hope, right? Like, oh, she’s growing, she’s doing all these things. And then there’s times where I’m like, hurry up and grow up. Devin. I want to be here for everything. I don’t want to miss a thing. And then I’m like, wait, slow down. It’s happening too fast.

Pause. I don’t want to see you do this. I want to see you do that. So it’s that constant limbo of, oh, Hey, wait, I want to be here, but I still want you to be a baby, but I want you to be independent, but I want you to be helpful. Um, I will say that through this though, our daughter Davin has learned a lot of empathy and she’s so caring.

Like she’s able to read the rooms and, you know, she pretends to be my little nurse. And if you think about it, you know, she was three. So I’ve been living with this for a little over three years now. I had my cancer bursary in April and, um, statistically, you know, statistics say between 18 and 36 months, that’s all you really have once a day.

Is to live. So I made my first goal, which was 36 months. And I’m just thankful that I see that. But unfortunately, a lot of ladies and gentlemen, don’t like there’s 116 of us the diet day. So my hope for the future is that we find a cure like the research gets funded and the only way we get it is through research.

Um, but that’s my little girl. I look at her and I just feel guilty some days, because some days I’m just a couch, potato mom, like, all I can do is get off the bed and sit there and watch her. And other days when I have energy, I’m like, okay, let’s go do whatever I can. And sometimes I would do it. Like, let’s go to the trampoline park, let’s go do this.

What do you want to do? Like this is your day. I feel good. Let’s do it. So it’s just finding that constant limbo of, um, child’s play. I think the greatest advice I could give somebody as. Go a day at a time and go based on how you feel, if you feel good that day, do it. If you don’t, don’t like little kids are so good at that.

Right. Like if they feel good, they’re all about it. And if they don’t, they’re just going to sit there until, you know, so just be like a child.

[00:11:00] Adam Walker: Yeah. Wow. That’s I mean, that’s such great advice. Um, just this, just thinking about things day-to-day moment to moment and in enjoying and really valuing each of those moments.

Um, that’s really fantastic. So actually I have one final question and I want to preface it by saying this. I I’ve talked to a lot of, of MBC patients. I’ve talked to a lot of, of cancer survivors and families, everything else. And I recognize that, uh, that I’m never going to fully approved. What it is that you deal with.

Right. And our, and I think our listeners that aren’t experienced in this won’t fully appreciate it. So, so what, what do you wish people knew about what it’s like living every day with MBC?

[00:11:47] Ashley Fernandez: Well, that’s a hard question. Um, I will say that, you know, MBC. It doesn’t look like normal cancer. Usually when you think of cancer, you don’t think of a full head of curls and chubby cheeks.

You know, like you think of cancer as unfortunately like being bald head, super fatigued, being super weak. But with MBC, not all chemo makes you lose your hair. Not all treatment makes you look so sick. Some treatment makes you gain weight cause you’re on steroids and everything else. I think it’s so important to remember that cancer.

Doesn’t just look a certain way. You know, it doesn’t discriminate. It affects everybody, anybody like race, religion, preference, like sex. Like it doesn’t come, it comes out for everyone and yeah, like it looks different for everyone. So just because we look good doesn’t mean we feel good. We’re deteriorating in the inside.

I think it’s so important to remember that you’re dealing with something that a lot of people don’t understand. We’re dealing with. The fact that death can happen every single time. I know I get this all the time. W you know, we could die tomorrow in a car accident or getting hit by a bus, and that’s not helpful guys.

Like, just let us validate our feelings. Like, Hey, yes, we’re scared. We feel frightened. Yes. Death is, you know, everybody can die. Right? We all have a timestamp of when we’re going to pass only differences that we know a little bit sooner, and we know what the cause of our death might be. Um, so I think I compare it to COVID.

I know that sounds terrible. But last year, the world’s shut down. Right? The world’s shut down and people were scared. People were scared cause they were going to catch something. People were scared because they were going to do something that’s a cancer patient’s reality every day, like our immune systems are weak.

We can catch something, just go into the grocery store. So it’s hard just getting out of bed some days. It’s hard just being like your new sense of normal. So it’s so hard to just appreciate what we have. And it’s still hard to just remember, just be kind people, like all of us are going through something.

It might not be cancer, but everybody has a cancer in their life. It’s affecting them and it’s hurting them and it’s making life a little bit more difficult. So if we were just kind to one another, it’s so nice. Um, another thing I want to draw attention to is the 116 of us die with MBC a day. That’s 116, too many.

Like I’m still here. By the grace of God, you know, thankfully my body’s keeping up with the research, but others don’t have that same luxury. So I think it’s so important to remember that even though some of us are here, there’s a lot of us that aren’t. So there’s family, friends, and individuals out there that are missing and grieving.

Um, And another thing is sometimes battle language. Isn’t helpful. Like when they say, um, oh, you’re fighting, you’re fighting for your life. Well, am I really fighting? Cause it’s not really a fair fight. Like cancer is attacking me. Like I can’t fight against cancer. Or when they say, you know, oh, she lost her battle.

Like, did I really know? Because I didn’t ever give up, like, I think battle language is so hard. And I think that’s important to remember when you’re talking to people. Some people don’t mind and some people. Um,

[00:15:06] Adam Walker: so I think you might be the first person I’ve talked to on this show. That’s ever mentioned that and I find that insight to be really, really helpful.

Thank you. Oh, about, it’s just an interesting thing. It’s an interesting perspective. I think what that makes me realize is that each person. Deals with the struggle in their own way. And for some people it might be to gravitate towards battle language and for others, it might be the exact opposite. And so as supporters of those individuals, we need to be aware of what, where they land on that spectrum and try to be thoughtful about it.

[00:15:43] Ashley Fernandez: Exactly. Exactly. Because some people are okay with it. And I think that’s fine. And you know, I am fighting every day for my life. It’s true, but it’s not a fight that I’m necessarily going to win. Cause eventually the cancer is going to get smart. If the research doesn’t continue to stay, but thankfully every day, We are getting more and more money for research, which then, you know, it’s gonna find a cure eventually.

[00:16:06] Adam Walker: Yeah. That is helpful. That’s and that’s, and that’s why we do what we do. That’s why we have this podcast. That’s why Komen does what it does to support this community. So, Ashley, this has been fantastic. Inspiring. Your smile is infectious. I’m sorry that all of our listeners don’t get to see it. Uh, and thanks for joining me on the show today.

[00:16:23] Ashley Fernandez: Basically, I want to just say thank you for giving me this time. Thank you for making an MBC, like just shining the light on MBC, which has metastatic breast cancer. I don’t feel like we get enough spotlight sometimes to just talk about it. And I just want to thank you for giving us, you know, just the platform to share and advocate.

And I want to remind everybody else out there that, you know, MBC is a diagnosis. That’s real. And unfortunately, early stages. A lot of people don’t talk about it, but one in three will become metastatic. Um, it’s just something to think

[00:16:56] Adam Walker: about. Yeah. I appreciate you bringing all of that up and really thank you for doing your part, you know, to support, to.

Um, and to just bring all these issues to light so that we can all be more supportive. So thank

[00:17:09] Ashley Fernandez: you so much, Adam. It was so nice talking to you. You’re like my new best friend

[00:17:12] Adam Walker: support for MBC week is brought to you by our partner. Merck. Thank you for joining us for this special episode of Real Pink focused on metastatic breast cancer.

You can help the metastatic breast cancer community. Today. I donating to breakthrough research by visiting Komen. Ford slash MBC donate.

Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen for more episodes, visit Real Pink.com and.org for more on breast cancer. Visit komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter at AGA Walker or on my blog. Adam J walker.com.