We all have that friend or family member we can depend on no matter what. That person is dependable and reliable. That person encourages and uplifts. Basically, that person is there whenever we need him/her. He/she is a confidant. He/she is trusting and a pleasure to be around. That person is our rock. If you ever had the pleasure of meeting, knowing, or spending time with Shay Ashford, you know she embodies all of these traits and characteristics.
What happens when the person we depend on and lean on so much gets weak? What happens when our rock is suffering in pain and in silence that he/she is willing to end it all? Because of a chronic illness, Crohn’s disease, Shay has suffered and dealt with pain day in and day out, and only a very few knew the extent of pain she was in. One day, Shay had enough. She asked her father, Chip Ashford, to take his gun and shoot her because of the pain she was in. We all depend on our rock. There are times, even our rock, our superheroes get weak.
Shay is a person that never complains. You would never know what she battling internally. I have been guilty of calling in for a headache. I’m sure I’m not alone for calling in and might could have gone ahead to work. Yet each day, she presses on in spite of how she is feeling and goes to work without complaining. A few weeks ago, I began a series on Shay and how Crohn’s affected her life. When she was diagnosed in 2007, there was not a lot of information about Crohn’s. During her interviews, I asked Shay how the flare ups made her feel, the number of surgeries she’s had, and some moments that stuck out to her as she deals with Crohn’s on a daily basis. In her words, “Crohn’s ruined my life.” Shay went from being the social butterfly and a star athlete to a person who was bedridden for days or weeks at a time and having to give up the sport she loved. Her body had now become her enemy. Since that time, she has had over four surgeries and over twenty hospitalizations. Ask yourself this question. Would you still be able to press on?
Prior to Crohn’s, Shay lived a carefree life. She was able to hang out with friends with no worries. After her diagnosis, she had to worry about how many times she would have to use the bathroom. She had to know how long the ride would be because of the possibility of having to use the bathroom. She had to know where she would be dining whenever she ate with friends or family. She would have to look up the menu prior to going to see if it was something she would be able to eat. After Crohn’s, Shay was no longer able to eat lettuce, popcorn, anything spicy, or crab legs (one of her favorite dishes). There would be no more overnight stays with friends. If she did agree to go, she had to make sure there would be multiple bathrooms. Shay’s main concern was that she did not want to take away the fun from others. She did not want to be a burden to anyone.
During our conversation, I asked Shay during one of her 20 hospitalization, was there any moments that stood out? There is one hospitalization that sticks out vividly in her mind. She was teaching for New Albany Public Schools. That morning, she had one of her flare up symptoms (thrush in her mouth). She said everything tasted like wood. Later that day, she began to feel worse. Her ears began to burn. For her, that is a tale-tale sign that bleeding has began in her body. Therefore, she knew that her symptoms and flare up was about to be worst. Prior to that day, Shay had already been to the ER 4-5 times because of her flare ups. Because of her symptoms and knowing and body, she knew she needed to get to the hospital fast. She calls for someone to cover her class and the nurse because she knew she had to get to the ER and quickly. The nurse would not let her drive herself to Tupelo. She met her father, Chip Ashford, halfway to Tupelo.
When she got to the room, she tells Chip that she has to use the bathroom. When she goes, the toilet is full of blood. She is weak and barely makes it back to the bed. Only a few minutes later, she has the urge to use the bathroom again. She tells Chip that she feels her body weakening and knows she is at the point of passing out. She told him she needed him to come with her because if she did pass out she would need someone to get her. Just as she suspected, she passes out in the restroom and has a dream.
Her dream is of flying pigs. They tell her “follow me Shay. Follow me into the light.” She begins to follow them. The sun was happy and shiny. She starts gravitating towards the light. After following them for a little while, she tells the pigs she can’t go the light. She tries to turn backwards, but she is unable to move. She attempts to turn again. This time, she awakens. When she does, she is on a gurney, and Chip is standing over her and asking her to wake up. She begins to vomit on the floor and in her hair. If you know Shay, you know she’s a germaphobe. She said she wasn’t worried about her body. She was worried if the vomit got in her hair. ☺️ On this visit, she has to be admitted for 3 days. Only few family members know that she is even there. They bring her one of her favorite stuffed animals, lady bug. The lady bug is symbolic for good luck. In that moment, good luck and positive vibes is what she needed.
Shay has endured four surgeries because of the Crohn’s. The most horrible surgery was in 2016. The reason for the surgery was because her bowel was not moving through her rectum as it should. She had anal fissure (tear in anal lining) and anal fistulas (infection in anus). Having the surgery was important because her body was identifying the stool as a foreign object. Her body was going into shock because of the pain. The pain she experienced prior to the surgery was nothing compared to the pain she felt after surgery. The only thing that helped eased the pain was bathing in warm water. Her mother, Carolyn, helped her into the tub. Even the warm baths weren’t helping. At that moment, Shay could not take anymore. She asked her dad to shoot her. That was the only way she felt that she could escape the pain. They all sat in the bathroom and cried as Shay suffered in pain. It would take months for her body to completely heal and for her to regain her strength. Still to this day, Shay said the pain she felt was the worst she ever felt in her life.
Typically, a person does not have colonoscopies until the age of 50 (http://www.cancer.org). Due to the in inflammation of the bowels, people that are diagnosed with Crohn’s are more likely to develop colon cancer (http://www.webmd.com). Due to Crohn’s, Shay has a colonoscopy every two years. In 2019, during one of Shay’s routine colonoscopies, the doctors were unable to complete it. The doctors were not able to see inside the colon with the scope because of two blockage, and there was a possibility of colon cancer. She was referred to a specialist. The doctors said that she would have to have surgery to go in to see what was going on. They gave her three scenarios because they didn’t know what it would look like when they went inside. Option A. The large intestines would be taken out and reconnect the small intestines. They would make a clean passage. The small intestines would do what the large intestines used to do. Option B. Everything did not go as smooth, and she would have to wear a colostomy bag for six weeks. She would go back after six weeks and reconnect the small intestines to the rectum. That is if it was a little irritation. The colostomy bag is a plastic bag that collects feces from the digestive tract with and opening from the abdominal wall (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com) Option C. If they go in, try to connect it, and it won’t connect, she would have to wear the colostomy bag permanently for the rest of her life. The doctors felt that because of her being young that option a is what they were hoping for, but she had to be prepared for option C. She didn’t want to have surgery. She did pray about the options, but she was afraid. Shay felt that she PTSD from the surgery of 2016. She didn’t want to have the surgery because of what previously happened. She was afraid of the healing process and wondered what would the pain level be this time around. She researched YouTube, talked to her doctors, and called her friends to get insight on what would happen. None of it helped, but she decided to go ahead and go through the surgery. In order to prevent the risk of colon cancer, Shay’s entire right colon and appendix was removed on December 17, 2019. The hospitalization was four days.
She said it was the best decision ever in her life. She wish she’d done it earlier. It didn’t take away her having Chron’s, but she no longer suffers in pain each day. She is able to eat things that she previously had to let go. She no longer lives her life in fear. Before the total right colon removal, Shay was afraid of trying new things and living her full potential because of her illness. Now, the fear is gone. She is able to live a care free life. She is able to bet he social butterfly that she once was. I am glad and thankful that Chip did not honor her request.
Remember, just because you see someone smiling, it does not mean there isn’t pain behind it. There are people that push through the pain regardless of what is going on with their bodies. They get up, get dressed for work, encourage you, pray for you, and still have a smile on their face. BUT!!!!!! If you don’t remember anything else, remember this!!!!!! There are times, even our superheroes get weak.