The Falcon   |   Volume 83, Issue 53

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Cancer battle does not stop Lowery's joy

Junior Ashleigh Lowery is all smiles moments after her chemotherapy treatment is administered at he Seattle Cancer Care Alliance last Monday.

Junior Ashleigh Lowery is all smiles moments after her chemotherapy treatment is administered at he Seattle Cancer Care Alliance last Monday.
Photo credit: DANIELLE KNIGHT/The Falcon.

By DANIELLE KNIGHT,

Published: April 21 2010

Junior Ashleigh Lowery has plans for her future. She wants to volunteer more. She wants to backpack through Europe and meet interesting people. She said she wants to be a mother.

And she will not let cancer stop her.

On Nov. 11, 2008, Lowery was diagnosed with cancer, something she thought would never happen to her. She is now faced with mounting medical bills, classes, a job and the life of a 25 year old.

Lowery hopes to graduate and become a child life specialist. She wants to help children and families at Children's Hospital that are dealing with trauma.

"I feel that with my experiences, I would have a lot to offer in that area," Lowery said.

Sharleen Kato, director of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, said Lowery will make an excellent child life specialist.

"She attracts people because of that joy she has and that optimism for life," Kato said. "And that understanding that this is her story, and this is the story that God has placed her in."

How does Lowery cope with the emotions?

"I don't," she laughed, wiping tears from her cheeks. "It's really hard. You lean on people. A lot."

Being at SPU helps her through the process, she said.

"To be surrounded by so many people that are uplifting ... that's very helpful."

Lowery has learned to not sweat the small stuff and that she is already a better person because of cancer, she said.

"She is just a joyful, vibrant person," Kato said. "She doesn't see herself as a victim, but that she has the biggest challenge of her life in getting well and it's hard, and it's difficult ... but she has that goal in mind."

Still, getting well has been a painful process for Lowery.

She was diagnosed with both plasmacytoma and non-Hodgkins MALT lymphoma, a form of lymphoma that is rare because of its location outside of the lymph nodes. Lowery's cancer is in her colon.

Lowery receives her treatment at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where she has been through PET scans, CAT scans, bone aspirations, two rounds of an oral medication and had part of her colon removed. She is currently on her third round of chemotherapy.

Lowery has had support from local organizations, friends and family in paying for her medical bills, she said.

Kato added that Lowery has seen an outpouring of support and care from students in the FCS department, as she is an individual and family development major.

Alumna Mali Brynestad, who graduated from SPU last quarter with the same major Lowery is working toward, is running her first marathon this summer to raise money for Lowery.

Brynestad spoke in one of Lowery's classes last fall about the individual and family development major, but met her in person only recently.

In an e-mail, she said that seeing Lowery's strength and trust in God is encouraging to her.

"She inspires me to conquer challenges and enjoy every moment I am healthy and able to be with people I love," Brynestad wrote.

On June 26, Brynestad will be running in the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.

Lowery's community in Snohomish has supported her as well.

On March 26, mothers of some women with whom Lowery once played soccer organized a gala to raise money for Lowery's medical bills. The event raised over $20,000.

Lowery also works at the Purple Cafe in Woodinville. While she works to pay for her bills, she also sees her job as a social outlet.

"My coworkers are amazing," she said. "They're very funny people, so it's nice ... for me to not be at school, to not be at the hospital, to just be out and just kind of ... be."

Lowery's job, in addition to the fundraising, help pay for her medical bills, which mount with each hospital visit and procedure.

In early March, Lowery had a "port-line" tube surgically implanted near her collar bone to receive chemo treatment, instead of having an IV in her arms twice a week.

With her port-line and new drugs, Lowery's chemo sessions are much shorter; during her first round of chemo, she withstood weekly eight-hour sessions.

Lowery visits the CCA twice a week and most of her now two-hour stay is spent accessing her port-line, getting her IV set up and waiting while her drugs are made according to her blood count.

The administration of the new drug only takes a matter of seconds.

During her visit to the CCA last Monday, multiple doctors and nurses said hello and seemed happy to see Lowery again. She is known all over the hospital.

Mimo, a man working in the cafeteria, joked with Lowery as she bought an apple from him.

"An apple a day," Mimo said, raising his shoulders.

"Keeps the doctor away," Lowery finished.

"That's right!" Mimo laughed, raising his hands in the air.

Sitting in her hospital bed awaiting her transfusion, Lowery asked her nurse, Mary Jane, about her family, gazing up at her with complete interest.

Brynestad said Lowery looks like a super model, even when she is receiving chemo. Her wide eyes are framed by brown bangs and flowing hair, which she is happy she will not lose with the new chemo treatment.

Lowery grew quiet as the drugs arrived in her room. Moments after her chemo was administered, though, she was back to laughing with those in the room.

"See?" said Mary Jane, removing the IV from Lowery's port-line. "We're all smiles and laughs here."

At times, Lowery pursed her lips from the pain of the process. Still, she remained gracious to each person she interacted with, thankful to be receiving treatment.

After chemo, she often tries to muster the strength to complete her homework. Chemotherapy leaves her completely exhausted.

A few months ago, she had to give up salsa dancing and soccer, two of her passions, because of the exhaustion.

"People ask me why I'm going to school," she said quietly. "I think that's kind of funny. You need a distraction. You know?"

Tears came to her eyes.

"You need some sort of an outlet. And you don't want (cancer) to define you. I feel like if I stop doing everything, then it will define me," she said, wiping the tears from her eyes.

Lowery said her biggest fear has always been cancer.

Another fear she has?

"Spiders," she said, laughing.

Laughter aside, though, it is strange to live with her worst fear, she said.

"I almost feel like, what else do I have to be afraid of?"


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