Growing up, only child Ashlie Randolph was the epitome of a daddy’s girl. The now 34-year-old travel agent from Las Vegas is extremely close with her father James, a retired firefighter.
One experience Ashlie never imagined she and her dad would face together? Cancer.
But that’s exactly what happened when Ashlie was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2013, and James was diagnosed with prostate and kidney cancer just a few months later.
A Double Diagnosis
With a medical history of an enlarged thyroid, Ashlie had an ultrasound and biopsy before a work trip to Jamaica in the summer of 2013.
“I finished work for the day, and noticed I had seven missed calls from my doctor. I returned the call and the doctor said, ‘Your test results are back. You have a little bit of cancer,’” Ashlie remembers. “I was 28 years old, and I had just bought a house the year before. What do you mean I have a little cancer?”
Ashlie says her mind went to every possible worst case scenario. So she did what she always did in times of need — she called her dad.
When she gave her dad the news, he calmly responded, “OK.”
Ashlie remembers wondering, “Did you hear what I just said?!” and only recently learned that, of course, her dad was worried, but was trying to stay calm on the phone. James passed along the news to his wife and Ashlie’s mom, Tammy, who jumped into action and booked an appointment for Ashlie at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), Phoenix, Arizona upon her return from Jamaica.
A few months later, as James prepared for retirement, his doctor recommended a biopsy, as his PSA levels had been up and down for the past two decades. The biopsy came back positive — James learned he had prostate cancer, and on top of that, they discovered a spot on his kidney, which also came back positive.
Ashlie was stunned by the news. “I pretty much had a nervous breakdown when my dad graduated from the fire academy when I was in kindergarten. Because of his job, I had always mentally prepared that if something happened to him, it would be at work,” Ashlie explains. “Finally being retired and enjoying life, I was like, ‘Really? Now is the time?’”
Knowing Ashlie had a positive experience at CTCA®, James made an appointment and learned he was a candidate for external beam radiation therapy.
Getting Through Treatment (and Celebrating Life) Together
Ashlie came to CTCA in August of 2013 and had part of her thyroid surgically removed.
“After Ashlie’s first appointment, she told me, ‘Dad, I’m going to be fine.’ I was relieved,” says James. “I became resolved knowing that whatever came down the pipe, I could deal with.”
Ashlie says she feels like her diagnosis happened when it did for a reason — to help her dad find CTCA for his longer road to recovery. “I knew the treatment he’d be getting was excellent, and that he’d be okay,” she says.
Together, Ashlie and James supported one another through surgery, radiation treatments and checkups.
“I went to be her caregiver, and she came to be mine,” James says. “If it was even possible for us to get closer, going through treatment together helped some.”
Ashlie remembers strategically scheduling appointments so she and James could be at CTCA at the same time.
“We’d have daddy-daughter weekends up there,” Ashlie explains. “We’ve always spent quality time together, but that was really quality time.”
James spent nearly 10 weeks at CTCA undergoing treatment. Now, he returns every six months for checkups, and Ashlie returns once a year.
Last April, Ashlie and James marked a special milestone — their five year anniversaries as cancer survivors, an event called Celebrate Life.
Ashlie says Celebrate Life was bittersweet and surreal. “There were people we shared lunch with whose mom should have been there celebrating but wasn’t. For me, that was difficult to process in that moment,” Ashlie explains. “At the same time, it was such a privilege to be there and celebrate not only my progress and health, but my dad’s as well,” she explains.
“It was really something special for the two of us to celebrate,” remembers James.
The Art of Caregiving
As National Family Caregivers Month approaches in November, Ashlie and James have some words of wisdom to pass along to fellow caregivers.
“It’s not just about the patient,” says Ashlie, thinking about her mom who served as a caregiver for both she and James. “It’s also about the caregiver. I didn’t realize that at the time.”
Both Ashlie and James appreciate the way CTCA focuses on supporting caregivers. “They let the caregivers know, this is about you too,” says James.
Ashlie advises future caregivers to “put on your own oxygen mask first” and to make sure you’re in a position where you’re healthy and able to be fully supportive. She also recommends caregivers have an open and honest conversation with their loved one to see what type of support they want.
The Power of Positivity
Ashlie and James’ secret weapon throughout their journey together? Positivity.
“Before my diagnosis, I would stress about stuff that was really insignificant,” says Ashlie. She now has a tattoo that reads ‘PMA’ standing for ‘positive mental attitude’ as a reminder.
“Life is going to throw you curveballs, and you have control over how you handle your reaction,” says Ashlie. “My journey was a wakeup call to what’s really important.”
No case is typical. You should not expect to experience these results.