“ Ask questions. Take everything at your own speed. There's no “right way”.
Ashley Myers-Turner is one creative mAss Kicker! Her journey has lead her from Texas to New York City. She then landed in West Hollywood, CA where she works as an assistant editor/associate editor for Werner Publishing. She is also a Freelance Multimedia Producer/Editor and photographer in her spare time. Ashley has been very involved in the brain tumor advocacy community. We met her initially online through twitter and met her in person at the 2014 OMG Cancer Summit for Young Adult Survivors. We are very honored that she took the time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for us.
mK: Thanks for doing this Ashley! What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
AM-T: In the fall of 2011 I had unusual experiences – smelling rubber, time slowing down, feeling out of body, tip-of-the-tongue syndrome – several times in one day. I knew the smell hallucination was a symptom of a stroke. I went to urgent care and they advised me to get an MRI. I started seeing a neurologist who treated me for seizures and, seeing a cyst on my MRI, referred me to a specialist. On February 22, 2012 that specialist became my brain surgeon. After surgery I was diagnosed with grade 2 Astrocytoma.
mK: Why did you involved in brain tumor advocacy? What organizations are you involved with? What do you do?
AM-T: I don’t remember ever thinking “I’d really like to be an advocate”. It just happened naturally. In college I worked with the nonprofit group Pink Ribbons Project in Houston, TX, because my cousin, a breast cancer survivor, was involved, and my mother was currently in treatment for ovarian cancer. That combine with my experience as a multimedia journalist pointed me in the direction of documentation and advocacy.
Personally, I have my own blog, theMRIproject.com, where I post my art that attempts to convey both my symptoms and the emotion that goes with the process of living with cancer. Last year I was part of an art show with a few other cancer survivors in Los Angeles. I’m active on the #btsm twitter community. Recently I attended the Stupid Cancer OMG2014 young adult conference. I’m about to join advocates across the country for the National Brain Tumor Society Head to the Hill conference. And locally I owe a lot to the Cancer Support Community for connecting me with amazing supportive friends and clinicians.
mK: Absolutely! What motivates you?
AM-T: Art – be it music, dance, photographs, paintings. My friends who are doing amazing things in their communities. (I have a lot of friends who are active in health related communities – yoga, mental health, medical devices – in addition to my friends in the cancer community.) The desire to work together with these amazing people, combine art and medicine, fill gaps, improve the experience for other people with the time that I have are all motivation for me.
mK: Cool. When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
AM-T: I don’t remember a specific moment ever feeling “back to normal”. This past January I was able to start ballet classes after taking 2 years off, since my surgery, and after my 2nd or 3rd class I definitely felt more grounded, relieved, and comfortable in my body. Now I continue to feel better after every ballet class. Not a return to who I was, but growing into a new me.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
AM-T: It’s pretty easy to make me laugh. Puns and things that are particularly well timed get extra points. I cry most often out of frustration. I think that’s where my first art piece started – to release that “hitting a brick wall” feeling.
mK: What would you say is the one non-brain tumor related thing that you are most proud of?
mK: That is so cool! Doctors showing their other talents! It must have been challenging “playing” with them. Actually, what was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
AM-T: When you’re recovering from surgery and living with cancer, you are indeed living. Life still happens and sometimes it happens all at once. There was a period of about 2 weeks last year that was simply a roller coaster of emotions. I had a very sudden death in the family, several job interviews, a friend’s wedding, my routine MRI, observed the anniversary of my mom’s death, the one year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis and surgery, started a new job…
I wanted to be a support for my family, but also had a lot to figure out for myself. I was fortunate enough to have the support of the Cancer Support Community. They set me up with weekly individual sessions with a counselor who was around my age and who had worked with my support group. My sessions were free of charge for about 2 months and help me manage my feelings and create boundaries and limits so I could manage my fatigue levels. I owe my counselor and CSC everything for helping me through that time.
mK: Fatigue SUCKS! It is easy to brush off, but there are ways to manage it! What is your guilty pleasure?
mK: HAHAHA! What fictional character are you most similar to? Why?
AM-T: I’m really bad at coming up with things like this. But one of my friends always call’s me Brenda Starr – the comic strip about a female reporter that ran in the Chicago Tribune starting in the ’40s. She’s always off on an adventure, so I’ll take it!
mK: Adventure seeker? What do you like to do in your spare time?
AM-T: What is this ‘spare time’ you speak of? Ballet class, brunch, museums, making photos
mK: Cool. What are you up to now?
AM-T: Working on some logistics for my next art project – a 3D printed chess set based on the theme of cancer fatigue. (If anyone happens to be an expert in 3D printing and would like to lend a hand, let me know!) Also putting together a couple writing pieces for various projects.
mK: Very cool! Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
AM-T: Reach out and get support, be it from friends and family, from an in person group, or a virtual group on-line (or all of the above). Ask questions. Take everything at your own speed. There’s no “right way”.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
AM-T: In middle school I made an electromagnet that could pick up a hammer. And got extra credit for decorating the exterior of the box with a schematic diagram made of colored felt. (aka I’m a nerd and an over achiever. But maybe some people already knew that…)
mK: HAHAHA! Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
AM-T: I have met a lot of incredibly beautiful people through our community and it makes me believe that Elizabeth Kubler Ross is correct with her statement:
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” -Elizabeth Kubler Ross
Ashley Myers-Turner: Science geek, artist, musician, ballerina, Kelsey Gramer groupie, frozen yogurt addict, over achiever, driven brain tumor advocate, and all-around cool girl. Check out her blog, theMRIproject.com, to see what she is up to next! Thanks again Ashley! We’ll definitely keep an eye on what you are up to next!