My Health, My Decisions: Ashley Devine’s Journey
Ashley Devine has twice battled liver cancer. Throughout her ordeals, she has taken the reins of her treatment options and made tough decisions about her care.
By Ashley Devine
In the summer of 2011, I was enjoying life as a carefree 22 year old. A New Jersey native, I was living in Florida, working as a hair stylist, going out with friends, and having fun. Figuratively speaking, cancer was a million miles away.
The first signs of any health issues came in the form of some swelling in my face. I thought I was just gaining some weight. In a few months, it worsened, and my best friend’s mom made an appointment with a doctor for me.
After some liver tests, it was suggested that I should have a blood test as well. The blood work results led to an ultrasound, and further tests included an MRI and a liver biopsy. Through all of these tests, I had a feeling that things were much more serious than my providers were saying. I brought along my parents for the follow-up appointment to discuss the results of the biopsy. I was diagnosed with stage IV liver cancer. When the doctor gave us the results, I said, “yeah, I know,” while my parents stood there in shock.
With a large tumor on my liver, chemotherapy or radiation treatment was not an option. I needed surgery. However, I didn’t find very much hope early on.
I reached out to 5 major cancer centers across the United States. After reviewing my blood work and scans, those centers were not willing to operate on me. I was then referred to a surgeon for a potential liver transplant, and she found that I didn’t meet the criteria for a transplant. I was with my mom, driving home, and feeling hopeless. That was the first time I ever cried about having cancer, because I felt like no one could help me.
Finally, after some prompting from my dad about going to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, I reached out to a liver surgeon at the center. He was willing to operate on me, and approximately 80% of my liver was resected (removed by surgery). After that, my disease remained in remission for 2.5 years. [Image left: Ashley shows her scar from the liver resection surgery.]
I continued to be monitored by the doctor who performed the surgery, and in April of 2014, he informed me that the liver cancer had returned.
Although I was thinking that he could again resect the affected area, he told me that the cancer was inoperable, because the tumor was on the hepatic vein and the risk was too high. He wanted me to have a liver transplant.
So I had all the testing and all the necessary steps to be placed on the liver transplant list; however, after all this, I had a change of heart.
After extensive research and praying, I decided that having a liver transplant at age 26 or 27 was not the quality of life I wanted. When people have transplants they have to take a never-ending regimen of immunosuppressive drugs, as well as make other lifestyle changes, and transplants are not permanent. Depending on the person’s age, health, and where the transplanted organ came from, a person can outlive the transplanted organ, and may need to go through the entire procedure again. Because I was in my twenties, this was certainly a possibility.
Right around this time, I began to explore the idea of using holistic medicine. My path to using holistic strategies began after I did my own informational research on cancer and digested multiple books and documentaries.
Needless to say, some people did not understand my decision to transition from traditional medicine to using holistic strategies. Half of my friends and family thought I was crazy not to get back on the transplant list, or to have another embolization treatment. I also knew that the location of my tumor, which was directly underneath my heart, could result in a potential radiation-related complication. This also played a role in my decision-making process.
A strong belief in holistic medicine is that nutrition can help heal the body. I experimented with a variety of methods, calling myself a “living science project.”
I changed my diet to vegan, incorporated foods to keep my body’s pH level more alkaline, and consumed juice diets as my main form of nutrition. Along with the diet changes, I tried intravenous therapies, such as hot ozone treatments and vitamin drips; maintained a 6-day-per-week exercise regimen; prayed daily; and kept a blog and used social media to connect with others who were fighting cancer.
Although the overwhelming majority of people in my life have been supportive, some people didn’t know why I chose to use holistic strategies to fight my cancer. Until you go through something like this, it’s very hard for people to understand this.
Rather than put my life on hold throughout my cancer journey, I forged ahead with my family plans and career. I had a baby girl, Gianna, in 2015, and I began online health coaching. If anything, getting diagnosed with cancer should be more of a reason not to put your life on hold—this is the time to live. [In the picture collage below, Ashley is pictured during her two cancer battles and after the birth of her daughter.]
In the summer of 2016, I was given a clean bill of health. I credit my willingness to have traditional medicine treatments and holistic methods with keeping me alive.
Today, I am working on increasing my online health coaching business and trying to be the “healthiest mom” I can be. Although I began coaching as a hobby and a way to keep myself in check, I am looking to increase my commitment to it this year. And although I have difficult days when I feel fatigued, I feel better than I did before I had cancer, and I’m definitely living a calmer, more peaceful life.
As a young person who has battled liver cancer twice, here is my advice to other young people battling cancer: Keep following your heart, and don’t give up when things don’t seem like they are going your way—even when you feel like you are doing everything right! Become a sponge, and learn as much as you can about this disease and about yourself.
For more information, visit my website here.
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