2016 - My reflection and too much of the "C" word

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Today is Sunday, January 1, 2017 and in typical fashion I am going to publish my 2016 reflection.  It has been a while since I wrote a reflection as my 2015 was a bit rocky and the battles were very heart heavy with the dissolution of my immediate “family”, so my reflection didn’t make it to publication. As I look back on what I started to write, it was best to keep that sucker locked up.
 
This year started out with some Cardinals and Green Bay Packer football games, ambitions to get back on my bike, and the annual Waste Management Phoenix Open. All smiles! Things took a quick turn when I had a client/colleague die on January 10, 2016 - RIP Laurie Callan.  Just a month later, we got the devastating news that my friend, Diane Nyguen, was told at John Hopkins Hospital they had done all they could with her leukemia. They gave her 3-6 months. Meanwhile, my company is moving and shaking building a new school campus. We would attend the annual Devour Phoenix Bartender’s Competition which Lisa and I made a habit off since my return to the US in 2012. March rolled around and I would travel south to Tucson where they make very strong margaritas and make a Spring Training baseball game. I made my trip over to Banner University Medical Center where I would begin my 3rd 9-hour infusion of Rituxan to help combat this crazy ass joint disease. Things didn’t go smoothly in the hospital that day; however we changed the beginning cocktail (like fine wine through the veins) which helped me catch some major ZZ’s moving forward.  We finished up Round 2 on April fool’s day. There was a trip to Vegas where I met my favorite artist Vladimir Kush and bought a couple more pieces to add to my collection on my 41st April birthday. I attended Diane’s “End of Life Celebration” which turned into a surprise dream wedding to her longtime boyfriend Long Nyguen at the tail end of April. It was quite the tear jerker! From there things got a little capped sized, as I learn that my very best friend was getting a freaking dose of Cancer as well as my long time mentor and friend, Mary Jane Rynd’s, husband had also been diagnosed with Stage 4 Brain Cancer that had metastasized to his lungs. UGH. F-CANCER!
 
Then it came, the permeating depression. For weeks I tried to avoid things, cried a lot, and spent the weekends behind closed doors. I realized I needed a way out of this temporary recession, so I started working with a trainer after a long break of doing the gym thing on my own. I needed that extra push and I know if I paid for it, I would show up. Apparently my plate wasn’t full enough, because pneumonia decided to come and land within me. Boy that wasn’t fun, going from specialist to specialist with all sorts of reason stemming from my 2014 intense lung infection journey. I won’t even bore you with those details. It wasn’t long after that I got the news that this fantastic disease has settled in my lungs, so I welcomed Rheumatic Lung into my compilation. No, it wasn’t music, but it was bound to come, so I will accept it and move forward. I was so graciously invited to attend Mr. Olympic with Jason Strayhand and the rest of the Freak of Nature family prior to my illness, so what did I decide to do – well go - of course. The relapse came and it took me several weeks to get over the hump.  In October, I decided to commit to doing my first bodybuilding show for Diane. After all she fights her fears daily and believes so much in me. Her deep words shook my soul. She said she wanted to see her chosen “Big Sister” be that Warrior on Stage. That is all it took!! My November included a fantastic client naming an actual beverage after my company (Don’t Drink and THRIVE) and a remarkably wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with Lisa and her family at Lon’s Hermosa Inn. We had so much to be thankful for that night, including me getting my medial medicinal card to help combat some of my pain. (Yep, I was very against it at first, but Diane pushed me to get it done. So it got done!) December came faster than I realized and my year was topped off with a remarkable Christmas Eve Service and then an unexpected Christmas Eve dinner with Jason and Tawnya Morris. (First clients, now FRIENDS)  It was truly a blessing to share in the joy of Christmas with their beautiful family. Christmas day included a 10-Mile walk and then a marvelous traditional Christmas Dinner with Brian and Amanda Sabean.  Finally, my New Year’s Eve was a very tearful somewhat low key high protein dinner with Lisa, Alex, and Joey.  We had a fun night and rejoiced in the fact that Lisa was CANCER FREE!
 
I wanted to spend a little time in this BLOG to reflect Lisa’s summer diagnosis that really hit me at the core of my existence.  It was one of those moments when you wished the room was pitch dark and you were hitting a bad dream segment that you wanted to get yourself out of.  It was the split second you said to yourself “What the Fu&#!” -  As I was picking Lisa up at the hospital for like the 3rd time, I finally said “Are you going to tell me what the hell is going on?! Umm why in the heck am I picking you up at the hospital again?”  Then it happened, that moment, when someone says something and you pause because you were second guessing that word that just abruptly hit you in the freaking face. I have CANCER. I can’t remember exactly how she said it, but I remember it being very nonchalant and submissive. But at that moment it wasn’t just Cancer to me, it was fucking cancer, I hate you! That afternoon was an emotional one.  We sat and chatted for a while about how ‘Danielle needs to be contained from running the sprint because this was about to be a marathon’ two close friends were going to embark on together.  I remember driving home that afternoon coming inside and sliding down the wall in tears. The moment the garage door hit the pavement, the fear filled me.  You know, that fear when the only person who has had your back for last 4 years and has shown you the true meaning of friendship and unconditional love through the good stuff and the bad is now dealing with the very disease that has taken so many from your life.  I was pissed. I was pissed that my dear friend’s life was going to be altered. I was pissed that she had to go through the difficulty of telling her family, her dear son, friends, and colleagues. I was pissed her travels plans were going to be pushed.  I was pissed that the love of her life, Scoty, had to play in the sand without her smile across from his. I was pissed she was going to have to do chemotherapy. I was pissed that it was her.
 
And so it began the treatment, the stress, and trying to make things seem as normal as possible even though that dam elephant came with us to dinner on the good days.  She had to be scared, but she never let on she was. She is that girl - the girl with the strength and the smile that doesn’t typically break in a crowd.  The girl who will make you believe something is awesome even when it sucks! The girl who you kinda have to drag things out of or I mean beat to death to get the real answer. It didn’t help that smack dab in the middle of her treatments, I would end up getting that horrible case of pneumonia, and so then I felt like that shit friend who couldn’t help. Nonetheless, the texts stay consistent for the most part and she did her thing with her wedges on every single time.  She jokingly claimed cancer never looked so good and boy she was right.  She conquered 3 rounds and then right before the 4th, she got the news.  Now this is the news you want to be awake for…. She was clear.  It was awesome because her news came when Scoty was in town.  I am guessing that moment was bliss between the two of them. I know when I got the text I shed some thankful tears because my friend had won. Lisa will likely never know what she means to me, but what I will tell you is that every little girl dreams to have a big sister.  Lisa is my forever family and the sister I could go to about anything. She is there when I am scared, she is there through my triumphs, and she has picked me up a time or TEN when I have fallen.  She has said the tough words I needed to hear and she has held my hand. She has also pissed me off and I am certain I have done the same to her! She is my ‘plus one’ when I don’t want to travel alone and encourages me to go the distance in all I do, even if it isn’t her thing. Lisa may not consider herself a fighter, but I sure as hell do. You won’t see Lisa throwing weights in the gym with me, but you will see her just about everywhere else. She helps me MAKE IT COUNT!
 
I’m sure if I write anymore, the very few who actually read this might fall asleep, so stay tuned for the next post.  As 2016 has come to a close I personally want to thank all of those who follow me as I try to push through the pain and define how RA will play its roll in my life.
 
Let’s MAKE IT COUNT in 2017 with less Cancer and Move Love and Laughter!

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Ashley Stevenson