Ashley Alvarez-yates
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Survivor x2

Ashley Alvarez-Yates

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Survivor x2

London ON

I light the night every year because I know there is no better form of encouragement, then to see a living testimony that the monster of cancer can be beaten.

Cancer-free since Early Spring 2015

My Cancer Journey began in the spring of 2013. I had just started a new job when I began having symptoms that seemed consistent with a cold or flu. A few weeks later, I noticed a lump, about the size of a golf ball on the left side of my neck just above my collarbone. As I was very active, I assumed it was a muscle knot of some sort but ended up booking a doctors appointment. 

Over the next 3 weeks, my life changed dramatically, through many tests & a biopsy, my newly formed medical team gave me the news that I had Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. There was a large mass growing in my chest, putting immense pressure on my heart, lungs & chest cavity. I was told I had multiple blood clots & was diagnosed with SVCS or Superior Vena Cava Syndrome which can mimic common cold & flu symptoms.

At this point I began daily Dalteparin Sodium injections to deal with the blood clots and entered the Cancer Clinic for the very 1st time. I quit my new job as my Oncologist & Hematologist felt it was a high-risk environment while on a blood thinning regimen. In late June I started 6 months of ABVD Chemotherapy. One day while I was receiving my Chemotherapy, this lovely gentleman sparked up a dialogue by asking me what I was in for, his name was Clayton, he was the life of the party, always smiling & making people laugh. He spoke to me about an event called Light the Night, taking place in October. And although my chemo symptoms were starting to intensify by this point, I managed to make it out & it was wonderful. The timing worked out for me to complete my chemo rounds right before the Christmas Holiday. My son, who was only 4 at the time was my biggest cheerleader & really kept me going on the tough days.

I kicked off 2014 with 32 External Beam Radiation Therapy treatments & finished up just in time for Valentine’s Day. In the weeks following I had follow-up appointments & multiple tests done. I received the amazing news that I was officially cancer-free. I could not be more ecstatic & excited to start living life again!

This is where you would think the famous line “and she lived happily ever after!” would go, but it was just not meant to be! (yet)

In the spring of 2014 I began working again, it felt so strange, I still don’t know how to describe it in words, but I truly felt out of place, like I had gone away on a trip for a really long time & when I returned, so many things were different, people were different & I was different. Through the summer & fall months, I made strides at work & spent my free time enjoying the outdoors with my family.

By October, I started experiencing symptoms that seemed consistent with a cold or flu. Difficulty breathing, sore throat, headache, & I would get these nagging coughing fits that would leave me gasping for air. I had been looking forward to the Light the Night event through the summer, so even though I wasn’t feeling great, my family & I managed to attend. I was happy to see that the event had grown in attendance since the year before & it was comforting to be surrounded by people who were all touched by blood cancer. During this time, I had just been taking some over the counter medications for my symptoms, but they were just getting worse.

I booked an appointment with family Dr. who sent me for tests & a CT scan. I received a call the next day from my Oncologist that I needed to come into the clinic as soon as possible. In that moment my worst fears were realized.

I walked through the Cancer Clinic doors, met with my medical team, & was informed that my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma had recured. Once again, I began daily Dalteparin Sodium injections, to prevent blood clots from forming, quit my job, got my PICC line & prepared for an Autologous stem cell transplant.

In November I started “Scavenger” Chemotherapy which continued for 3 months, in this time my immune system plummeted & I contracted a stomach superbug called C-Diff or Clostridioides difficile which caused me to be hospitalized for about a week. After I recovered from that, I began Filgrastim injections to stimulate my bone marrow to produce more stem cells, underwent the Permcath insertion procedure & Apheresis or harvesting of stem cells. Finally in January of 2015 was admitted to the hospital to receive the High-Dose Chemotherapy & received my stem cell reinfusion.

On Valentine’s Day of 2015 I stumbled out of the hospital bald & about 10 pounds lighter, but alive. The transplant was successful, the recovery process was long & arduous, but with the support of my family, hope & determination, I was victorious. Cancer almost beat me, but it didn’t, I survived to see my wedding day, we were blessed with another amazing child, & I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Light the Night is more than an annual event, it’s a community. It is a gathering place for people who are touched by cancer, it’s a spot for healing & empathy. It connects people who feel alone & disconnected. It’s a supportive, inspiring group of people that push each other to shine bright. I light the night every year because I know there is no better form of encouragement, than to see a living testimony that the monster of cancer can be beaten.