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Ashley Pedro

Patients & Survivors Stage IV Colon Cancer Nebraska
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Ashley's story

“Picture it! Sicily. 1922." I am kidding, but who doesn’t love Sofia, Blanche, Dorothy and Rose!

In 2016 I met, built a relationship with, and moved 1,155 miles from home to be with the person I am 100% sure I was always supposed to be with: my husband, Josh. This was all done within seven months and during a divorce. (There is a longer story to that, but that is for another time!) Josh and I have been together for seven years and married four. I am a stepmother to an incredible 13-year-old girl, Alexis, and full-of-life 10-year-old boy, Kolby. We also have two Siberian Huskies, Sansa and Arya. Life was going great, sure there were ups and downs, but I couldn’t have been happier.

For years I had been struggling with anemia, but it didn’t seem like a huge deal to any of the doctors I had been seeing. I was told, "Take some Slow Fe," which I did. Numbers would come up; I would stop taking them; numbers would go back down; and we would dance that dance quite a bit. I did not think twice about anemia or the effects that it could have on the body or even why it was happening. I am not a doctor, and if they aren't super concerned, why should I be?

Let’s skip to the summer 2020. I was traveling back home from West Virginia on a plane and sat down beside of a pretty amazing lady. I am not sure how we got onto the subject, but a long time ago I had a hard tugging on my heart to get into the military. Back then I talked to most branches with the exception of the Marines. The last person I spoke with told me to lose weight and then come back. I was so mad walking out that day that I decided "I tried. I am done."

Well, the lady on the plane had mentioned her family was in the military and asked me if I had tried the Air National Guard. I went home and had a serious discussion with my husband and before we knew it there was an Air National Guard recruiter in our living room with both me and my husband.

I was really going to attempt to enlist, finally! First steps are to get all medical record in – if you had a Band-Aid® from anywhere medical, they needed it. I had my work cut out for me.

I gathered everything I could and sent it in to my recruiter to have the medical director review. I got a message back that said, “A hemoglobin of 8.9 is clearly disqualifying. She needs evaluation and treatment for her own health and well-being.” I marched right to my PA and said, the military isn’t going to let me in. We need to fix my hemoglobin.

She sent me to a hematologist/oncologist who did two iron infusions and sent me for a colonoscopy consult. Between the iron infusions and colonoscopy consult, I went to see my PA again for my annual appointment. She found a lump that was concerning when she was feeling around my stomach area and sent me for a CT scan. The CT scan showed three different tumors.

February 24, 2021, Dr. Myron Morse sat my husband down and told us that I had stage IV colon cancer, and I would need to go into surgery on March 2, as the tumor in my colon was about to enclose it. I could immediately feel the burning of the tears running down my cheeks, and to this day even writing about this makes me tear up as it takes me back to that day, sitting in that chair and hearing "stage IV colon cancer." I honestly don’t remember much of what was said after that.

On March 2, I was found to have a very bulky tumor, which was contained within the right colon. There was no evidence of peritoneal metastasis. There was a very large racquetball-sized lymph node associated with the right colon which was removed en bloc with the other lymph nodes. The liver lesion was high on the dome of the liver and deep within the liver and was not accessible to biopsy. The other surfaces of the liver were grossly normal on palpation. The ovaries were normal size, as was the uterus and palpation of the colon and remainder of the abdomen revealed no other abnormalities within the amentum or lining of the abdomen.

On March 23, 2021, I started the FOLFOXIRI regimen (leucovorin, irinotecan, oxaliplatin, and 5FU). On June 2, 2021, I finished this regimen as I needed to be off it for a month before I could have my liver surgery.

By the end of the sixth chemo treatment on June 2, I was worn out, and my hair looked like I had a comb over – very, very thin. My nails were brittle and breaking. My neuropathy was still hanging around, but I had a month to recover, then surgery, then back to chemo again to kill what could be remaining.

June 15, 2021, I met with Dr. Shah, and he said, “Ashley, you are a special patient, I should have known it wasn’t going to be as easy as getting an MRI done and telling you exactly what the plan was and what we are seeing.” Unfortunately, when the scans came back, they showed the mass was close to the same size as it was when the initial MRI was done, three months prior. Measurement was then 9.1 x 7.0 x 9.3cm (Previous measurement was 9.2 x 7.0 x 9.3) .The radiologist believed that it could be a giant liver hemangioma. To make a long story short – they met with a tumor board and decided that it would be best to open me up and see what the mass was and just get it out.

On July 2, 2021, It is surgery day! My gallbladder was removed as it was in the way. Gallbladder measured 7.5 x 2.6 x 1.9cm. “Right lobe of the liver” consists of a partial hepatectomy specimen weighing 1108 gm and measuring 19.2 x 10.4 x 9.8 cm in dimension. The mass inside the liver measured 10.3 x 8.3 x 7.1.

On Friday, July 9, 2021, I shaved my head. I had had enough and after seeing pictures of me in the hospital and how little hair I had left, I decided that it just needed to go finally. For months I had been watching and crying as it came out little by little. Looking back now, if I could have changed anything, I probably would have just shaved it a hell of a lot sooner.

On August 3, I started chemo treatment number seven of 12. On October 12, 2021, I finished chemo treatment number 12 and rang the damn bell surrounded by family and friends! The past eight months had been hell, but we finally made it and had hope that life would get back to normal.

On November 2021, I had a CT scan that showed no evidence of disease, and we planned a trip for Cancun, Mexico, in February 2022.

January 3, 2022, I had my CEA level results, and much to my dismay it is trending upward. I was told that it wasn’t a big deal as it is still within normal range, but my body was telling me something was wrong. I will have my appointment with the doctor again in February, but scans won’t be repeated until May as I just had them done in November. (Every six months)

In February 2022, Josh, and I are headed to Cancun, but I have been dealing with some stomach pains. I have also noticed a hard spot in the area of the scar where it turns at my belly button. I have been told it could be a multitude of different things. From scar tissue to possible a hernia: Stuff that shouldn’t concern me or that can be fixed easily. So, we go to Cancun and have a blast. When we get back, I will go for my doctor’s appointment and express my concerns if I am still having issues.

On the morning of March 3, I went in to have the CT scan done. From the past year of going through multiple CT scans, I knew they had an hour to read the scans and get the results out, and they were pretty quick about doing it. So, of course, I sat at my computer at home and pushed the refresh button until they appeared on my screen. “New pleural based right lower lobe mass measuring 2.5 x 1.2 cm, highly concerning for metastatic disease.”

That was the first sentence on the Findings section of the CT report. I broke. My heart sank. All the blood drained. I had just got done fighting this – why is it back so soon? I, of course, had read the results before the doctor had, and I was freaking out.

They scheduled us an appointment to go talk with the oncologist in Omaha about these results.

March 4, 2022: This is bad. "You have a very aggressive form of colon cancer." Previously I asked about my death date, and I was told not to worry about that, as we wouldn’t have to worry unless it came back. Well, here we are – so what is the outlook on life now? Five years. To be exact – if I lived five years, I would be an exception to the rule.

What?!? My nephew just turned 2. In five years, he would barely be in school! I wouldn’t get to watch him grow up? How is my mom going to take this news?! I needed to talk to my other oncologist that had stayed so positive about everything last year. I needed to hear what he thought about all this. I thought…When I finally was able to chat with him, he was very blunt and to the point: one to two years on chemo was all I would have. I think I cried for two weeks. Everything set me off. How was I 34 and getting this kind of news? They told me to go get a second opinion – that was what they would do if it were them or their family.

March 22, 2022, we started our adventure with MD Anderson, and I couldn’t be more blessed. This particular trip, we were sent back home and told that standard of care would be just as good as what they had currently for clinical trials, but they wanted me to continue coming back.

We found out then that in order to be in a clinical trial, my tumors had to have progressed by 20%. Obviously, we don’t want them growing, but in reality, the chemo would in fact stop working as the cancer would eventually outsmart it. At the end of April 2023, we saw growth on the CT scans. It was only millimeters, but it was enough to be referred over to the clinical trial folks.

June 10, 2023, my husband and I drove the 14 hours to Texas to start the clinical trial process. June 13, I was cleared to start the clinical trial, and it’s been going well ever since. Hopeful that I am able to stay on this clinical trial for as long as I can!

Cancer has changed my outlook on life and just my attitude about everything in general. Receiving and cancer diagnosis at such a young age puts a lot on a person and their family. What does life look like going forward? How are we going to pay for all this? What can we do in order to prevent this from happening to someone else?

I want to be able to tell my story, so people are more aware of the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer. My symptom was anemia and for the five years that I ignored it, essentially, the tumor just continued to grow and then spread.

Had I been able to know back then that anemia was a symptom, I probably would not have received the stage IV diagnosis. When I went to United in Blue and Call-on Congress this past March, I felt like it was the swift kick in the butt I needed to take my story to a whole new level.

Sure, I had been posting on my Facebook updates so that people could follow along, but Fight CRC has opened my eyes as to how amazing this community is and the fight that we are taking to getting a cure for this insane disease! Sharing my story with Congress this past March was amazing! You could see the effect it had on the person I was talking to at the time.

I am hoping that with Fight CRC, we can bring a whole new light to colorectal cancer and how dangerous it will be if we don’t pay more attention to it!

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms included anemia.

Side effects

Side effects included fatigue, bowel irregularities, pain, neuropathy, and chemo brain.

Ashley's advice

You have to advocate for yourself! If something doesn't feel right, keep pushing until you get answers and relief!

Advocate, advocate, advocate! Your story is the most powerful thing you have in your own tool bag!

Ashley's Clinical Trial Adventures

Follow Ashley's clinical trial adventures.

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