February 13, 2017
“It’s just a cold,” the ER nurse said. “There’s a lot of that going around.”
After multiple fevers and several PromptCare visits later, Ashley was running out of options. As the nurse delivered the same feedback she had gotten time and time again, Ashley started hyperventilating. Her intuition told her it was more than just a cold; it was as if an angel had slapped her on the back with a warning. The attack was so severe that the hospital decided to do additional testing.
No one expected what came next…not even Ashley. On November 11, 2001, Ashley was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The news completely flipped Ashley and her family’s world upside down. In the blink of an eye, Ashley went from a young professional, just starting out her career, to fighting for her life.
For the next two months, OSF St. Francis became Ashley’s home. While Ashley suffered through chemotherapy, the rest of the world kept moving forward. The trees became bare, snowflakes delicately formed on her windowsill, and Christmas carols were sung, but Ashley remained in her hospital bed.
The doctors told Ashley that 66% of patients go into remission after the first round of chemotherapy. This was good news! Those were odds she could deal with. Odds that gave them all hope. Though the first round of chemotherapy didn’t put Ashley into remission, she was released after a second treatment.
But Ashley’s journey didn’t stop here. The next step was to perform a transplant to strengthen the bone marrow wiped out from the chemotherapy. In April of 2002, Ashley participated in an autologous transplant research program.
In an autologous transplant, a patient’s blood cells are collected and harvested. The patient then undergoes intense chemotherapy. Afterwards, the collected stem cells are returned to the patient, allowing the bone marrow to produce new blood cells to replace those eliminated as a result of the chemotherapy.
After the transplant, Ashley was released from the hospital. She and her family anxiously awaited the results and prayed for healing.
“Dear God, I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” Ashley prayed aloud after the doctor delivered unwanted news.
The autologous transplant research program Ashley participated in didn’t rid her of the cancer. The cancer was still alive and well, pumping through her delicate body.
Instead of the procedure saving Ashley’s life, it essentially donated the cancer back into her body. They had discovered that Ashley’s type of leukemia required a full allogenic bone marrow transplant from a donor.
And just like that, they were back where they had started. Until, a God wink occurred.
Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a God wink is what the Meyer family uses to describe God-given blessings that have been placed in their life for a specific reason—they are essentially mini miracles. Throughout Ashley’s journey, you’ll recognize several God winks. This is just the first of many.
It just so happened that Cortney, Ashley’s sister, was a perfect bone marrow match, which is extremely rare in the medical field. Cortney’s bone marrow gave Ashley a second chance at life.
But another challenge presented itself. The Meyer’s United Health Care Insurance had changed on August 1. Had Ashley’s testing been done just one day prior, she would have been transferred to the University of Iowa, which was highly recommended for Ashley’s condition. Now that it was out of network, they had to find another option.
They knew they had used up all of their cards and couldn’t afford another mistake. So, after some intense research and receiving several recommendations from friends and family, they landed on MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Or as the Meyer family calls it: The City of Angels.
MD Anderson welcomed Ashley with open arms and got right to work. Since Ashley had already been through the initial transplant chemotherapy treatment, they had to tweak the medicine. After a couple rounds of chemotherapy and an allogeneic bone marrow transplant from Cortney, things finally started to look up.
At the beginning of the New Year (2003), Ashley was officially released to go about living her everyday life—a victory that seemed too good to be true. For the most part, she could try picking up her life from where she had left off.
It wouldn’t be until exactly two years to the day of Ashley’s diagnosis, on November 11, 2003, that she would once again be thrown another life-changing curve ball.
Cortney (pictured, left) & Ashley (pictured, right)
“Let’s get spray tans like in the Friends episode!” Ashley desperately suggested with excitement. “I refuse to let this news get me down. We need to do something fun!”
Ashley and her family made the trip to Houston for Ashley’s routine blood tests, but the doctor didn’t deliver good news…her blood results weren’t what they were hoping for. Not to mention it was, to the day, Ashley’s two-year anniversary of her leukemia diagnosis.
In Ashley’s world, laughter was the best way to combat terrible news. Nothing could ever get her down—she was unstoppable. Her positivity was infectious and gave everyone hope, not just for her future, but for their own too.
Though the news was handled well, the reality was harsh and unavoidable. Ashley had yet again relapsed, and they were back where they had started two years prior.
Ashley and her sister, Cortney, laughed hysterically with their good friends, Niki and Renee, at all of their streaky orange spray tans. In that moment, it was as if time froze. Nothing could distract them away from the pure joy coursing through their bodies as they laughed so hard they cried.
Ashley and her family lived each day for what it was. They didn’t look ahead or wonder “what if,” they stayed in the moment…focused on getting through each day as it presented itself. And on this day, they would pick up the fight from where they left off—armor and all.
They gave Ashley a new chemotherapy treatment, so new they called it VNP for Very New Product (now known as Onrigin). But as the holidays passed, hope seemed to fade. Ashley’s blood cell count wasn’t recovering, and her body was frail. She began running high fevers and an unusual rash appeared on her back, which spread to her arm and neck. The doctors couldn’t explain it and tests came back inconclusive.
Shortly after the rash appeared, Ashley had a stroke which seemed to set off a chain reaction. The New Year signifies new beginnings, but for Ashley the New Year presented a slew of challenges.
Her mind and body began to deteriorate to the point where she couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. She was transported to the Intensive Care Unit where they discovered, what they thought to be, a bleed in her brain.
There was nothing more the doctors could do for Ashley, so they urged family to spend any remaining time with her. Cortney took the first flight to Houston, but it was unlikely she’d make it to find her sister still alive. It would be an understatement to say that Cortney was liberated to find Ashley still breathing upon her arrival to the hospital.
The doctors had given Ashley a steroid, which reduced the swelling in her brain. A craniotomy revealed something entirely different than the initial prognosis. But, unfortunately, the news didn’t change the outcome. Instead of a bleed in her brain, Ashley had a fungal infection.
Fungal infections can be common among cancer patients due to their weakened immune systems from intense treatments. In Ashley’s situation, the stroke caused the fungal infection to rapidly spread from her lungs to her brain, destroying part of her brain.
During the craniotomy, Ashley’s eyesight was almost completely compromised. After the procedure, she wasn’t able to see and didn’t know her ABCs or even her name. But Ashley knew her prayers—she repeated them over and over again by memory. Even though she was in a completely different state of mind, she somehow knew God was always listening.
The doctors said she would never be able to see again. But they were wrong. Ashley was a fighter, and by the grace of God, most of her eyesight and memory returned.
After a second craniotomy, the doctors scheduled a third to remove another part of the lobe that was infected with the fungus. This surgery would likely paralyze Ashley. But regardless of the risk, they were willing to accept her fate in exchange for her life.
She was marked for surgery when one of the nurse practitioners put an instant halt to Ashley’s procedure. The nurse knew Ashley was weak and her body needed time to recover. She also knew there wasn’t a cure for Ashley and she would eventually die from the infection.
The doctors agreed that it was time to focus at the quality of life left for Ashley. So she was sent home to live out her remaining days.
“It doesn’t look good,” Ashley’s mom, Jacque, said as tears streamed down her cheek. She was reading through the medical papers the doctors sent home with them when the realization settled in—Ashley was out of options.
“But there’s always hope,” Jacque assured. “We just have to pray.”
To say the Meyer’s are strong in their faith would be an understatement. Ashley and Jacque had religiously prayed the Novena, a traditional Catholic prayer, on top of their daily devotional every single day. It didn’t matter where or when, they would always turn to prayer.
They sent Ashley home to die, but somehow, it never happened. The fungal infection—once uncontrollable and all-consuming—encapsulated itself to Ashley’s ribs and is now stable; placing Ashley in medical history as the longest surviving patient to be on her anti-fungal medicine, Posaconazole.
Today, life is no cakewalk. Ashley continues to fight battles everyday: her peripheral eyesight is limited; her shoulders have collapsed, removing full rotation of her arms; she’s had her hips replaced; and her ovaries were destroyed from the intense treatments.
But Ashley doesn’t let any of this stop her. She now has a beautiful family of her own with two adopted children, Riley and Jacob, and an amazing husband who all bring so much joy to her life.
Outside of Ashley’s journey, each member of her family has endured a health battle of their own. In 2008, Jacque was diagnosed with skin cancer and a rare liver disease. And in 2014, Ashley’s dad, Doug, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, while a few weeks later, Cortney was diagnosed with breast cancer. But from these struggles, more miracles have occurred. Jacque’s skin cancer was treated and her liver disease miraculously disappeared, while Doug has fully recovered and Cortney is on the road to recovery.
Regardless of these trials, the Meyer family recognizes each day as a miracle. We once heard that when we pray, coincidences seem to occur. There is power in prayer, and the Meyer family are a true testimony to this.
At the end of our interview, we ventured outside for a few photos when we were graced with the presence of a beautifully bold and bright rainbow. Perhaps a sign of God’s mercy? Or perhaps a sign of healing? Whatever it signified, we were overwhelmed with a sense of peace and love. It was obvious that Jesus was there with us in that moment.
Interviewing this family was a humbling experience that has forever changed our life.
As I (Erika) left this session, a flood of emotion swept over me in the form of uncontrollable tears. I watched that beautiful rainbow follow me home, and as much as I didn’t want it to, I knew it would eventually fade away. But in that moment, I knew that even after the rainbow disappeared, God’s love and His promises would still remain.
I am forever grateful for this experience. The Meyers have taught me what it truly means to have faith and trust in God and His plans for us, even when He deals us a difficult hand. I have no doubt that this family will continue to touch many lives, as they’ve touched mine.
Love Heals is an ongoing initiative that shares real-life encounters with God’s healing power. If you would like to share to be part of this initiative and share your story of God’s grace and love, please contact us. We would like to sincerely thank every individual who has participated in this endeavor! May God continue to bless you with courage, love, and healing.