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ASHLEA SNELL

Three Years

November 9, 2018

Filed in: Personal

I think this is probably one of the hardest blog posts I’ve ever written. Before you get scared or nervous, it is good news! But, its a little about me that you may not have known. Its taken me about three years to actually build up the courage to share. So here we go… finally. 

You see I started my business in February of 2015 while I was in college. A few months later, we moved to Wisconsin for my husbands job and in the month of May 2015 alone – we moved states, got a new job, graduated college, celebrated our one year anniversary, got a puppy, bought and house and found out we were expecting our first child. WOW- yes, we literally jumped through every life milestone pretty much in one month. It was a whirlwind. My business started taking off again and I had booked my first ever wedding in August of 2015. I was thrilled. Three months pregnant had nothing on me, I loved every second of that wedding and started marketing for weddings! About a month later, my husband was painting a room and my friend Hannah and I were helping, and we heard a yelp… he had fallen 12-15 ft off a later, and hit a cement wall. He fractured his scull and I thought that was such a hard time. We were in and out of the hospital for about two weeks with checkups and such and thankfully he was okay. I believe that was at the end of August beginning of October. I thought man, that was a hard time. 

Then fast forward about a month later, my husband noticed a spot on me he wanted the doctor to check out. I told him, no its fine. My mom has moles like – its okay. We went to the doctor for my normal pregnancy check up and she asked if there was anything else we had questions about. “Nope!” I said making sure my husband didn’t have time to get a word in. “I’d actually like you to check this mole on her leg” He said. I was so embarrassed. She looked, and without even thinking too long, she said we needed to get it off immediately. She mentioned she would rather be safe than sorry. Two days later we had my first “tumor” remover. She said there was a very small chance it would melanoma but she would get results back within two to three days.

A week went by, and I hadn’t heard anything. I’ll never forget it was the next friday evening and I got a call from my doctor at 7pm at night. Tyler and I were sitting on the couch and she told me on the phone that she was on vacation with her family, but she wanted me to call or text her if I had any questions. She told me she was so sorry to inform me that I didn’t have melanoma but I had nodular melanoma. 

Nodular melanoma is the most aggressive form of melanoma. It tends to grow more rapidly in thickness (penetrate the skin) than in diameter. My heart sank. She said she was sorry the results took so long, but they sent it to the mayo clinic for double testing since I was pregnant and it made it an extremely rare situation. 

I remember my husband taking the phone and asking questions while I just sobbed. She talked to Tyler off and on throughout the weekend with just narrowing down specifics of the tumor. The thing about Nodular melanoma is that the cells don’t have to connect, so even though the original tumor was removed the cells were rapidly spreading at a mitotic rate of 15 cells every time it divided. Later one oncologist we were working with said a very high mitotic rate is usually around 9 or 10 the highest this one oncologist had seen was a 6. The highest it can go is a 30 and my cells were multiplying at a 15. The thing was, this was in October so I was around 4 months pregnant. We got a second opinion down at Foedert in Milwalkee with one of the world recognized cancer doctors there, and he mentioned that there were only 15 other ladies that were pregnant while having nodular melanoma and nothing is tested for this specific cancer for pregnant woman. One of the oncologists in Appleton mentioned, well, you know its not tested but you can always try and do the radiation bullets – your health is what really matters. He could care less about the sweet baby boy that was in my stomach and that alone bothered me so much.

We were told we kinda just had to wait it out. After my initial phone call with my doctor – I did not want to tell anyone. My husband wanted us to tell our church that November to just help uplift us in prayer. I left early because I didn’t want attention. I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me. I had someone mention to me, “oh its just melanomia, my uncle had it and hes okay” Some people didn’t understand why I was so scared. Why my heart was so heavy. Why I needed family and friends to just surround me and pray for me. 

I honestly don’t really remember alot during the last few months of my pregnancy. I remember that at the end of November they mentioned they could do a skin removal, that they normally would do when I was under after they do the radiation bullets to my lymphatic system. I told them, if this is the only thing you can do while i’m pregnant at least its something. So I went in for a large surgery which still to this day I hate thinking about it. 

We scheduled to induce Elijah when I was 36 weeks since it was the earliest they could take him at a safe due date. I’ll have to add up until then I had planned to shoot my second wedding ever at the Heidel House THREE days prior to having my son. Sure enough, You better believe I shot that wedding 36 weeks pregnant. What a gorgeous wedding it was too! Anyways – I went in on January 12 ready to have our baby boy and it ended up taking a total of 40 hours to have him. It was a long, tired, rough three days and finally my 8 pound 7 ounce baby boy was born into this world. HEALTHY. I remember just crying (again pretty sure this happens a lot well, if youre a girl haha!) My baby boy was born January 14th, 2016 and he was healthy. He was perfect. 

Ten days later, I was being rolled into a OR room while my precious husband was joined with our very best friends – my brother David and my sister in law Ali. They came to help Tyler take care of our 10 day old in the waiting room for a 12 hour wait time.  I’ll never forget that nurse after nurse when they asked what I was doing here after having a 10 day old baby, and I would tell them and they would start crying. I had one nurse walk away because she could not stop crying. A friend in college, her dad had nodular melanoma and within two weeks of finding out he passed away. I had been sitting for about three months by now with this cancer and not knowing how much it had spread.

My husband decided that morning to put up on facebook I was having this surgery, and just asking for prayer. This was one of the most encouraging things he could have ever done. I was so scared. I had hundred, if not thousands of people praying for me that day that my cancer had not spread to my lymph-nodes. 

The doctor had told us prior to this procedure that he was about 93% sure it had spread to my lymph-nodes just because of how fast my mitotic rate and how fast nodular melanoma grows. There is nothing except 13 clinical trials that he mentioned that we could go through after this. 

They went in, and removed three lymph-nodes. Then it was another waiting game. That was also on a tuesday, and on that same Friday, he called us back and he told us that this was again, extremely rare but that they did not find any trace of cancer in my lymph-nodes. We again cried, and hugged our sweet Elijah so so tight. This literally was a miracle. The Lord answered so many prayers and I know He brought me through this time to grow closer to our church family, and to each other. 

Its such a hard story for me to share because as always, along with so much love, and prayers there are always the few discouragers. I was super discouraged with a few people in my life that hurt me so bad during this time. The Lord really helped use those that loved me rally around me and lift me up. 

The doctor said on January 28, 2016 that I was considered Cancer Free. Those next few months I don’t remember well. I was completely on so many different pain medications due to my labor and my lymph-node procedure. I couldn’t walk due to bruising and the doctor mentioned that I wasn’t supposed to carry anything more than 10 pounds – ha joke was on him since in two weeks Elijah had gained two whole pounds. But, when I look back at this time I think about the month that I literally layed on the couch with Elijah and ladies in my church made me meals, and came and helped with Elijah. I can’t even begin to thank them enough. I don’t ever remember writing thank you cards for anything from October to after Elijah’s birth which I know is terrible but I just couldn’t. This was definitely the hardest season in my life. 

The thing is we all have hard seasons. We all have seasons of worry, and times when we are scared. We are not promised tomorrow. We never have been. I learned to cling close and be thankful for Tyler more. He was my rock. We would go into the doctor and then he would let me leave before he asked the doctor anything because he didn’t want me to be scared or stressed. I am so thankful for Tyler. 

So, why? Why in the world am I spilling my story three years after it happened. I just got done a few weeks ago with the most influential mentors I’ve ever had. Despite the doctors telling her her child was going to die in the womb and that she would have a stillborn that she was determined to carry sweet James until it was his time to go to heaven. She said there are stories about us who have made us the people we are, and we haven’t shared them.

That was me, this whole section at the workshop I tried and pretty much failed but I tried not to bawl my eyes out because this season has truly made me who I am. This was the hardest time ever, but It definitely helped me grow in my faith, and grow mentally and in so many other ways. Those seasons happen. We need to embrace the hard seasons and choose to grow from them. We don’t need to be ashamed when something hard comes along. We need to beg for help, and prayer and support. I could not imagine what it would have been like if we told no-one. I’ll never forget my in laws when we told them said, Ashlea, we will make sure you get the best treatment. If we need to go to Vanderbilt we will help pay. You will get the best treatment you need. Having them in my life to just say that meant the world. I grew so so close to my in laws during this time.

If you are in a hard season in life. I’m so sorry. This is hard. You will learn who you are, and you will learn that despite the hard thing that is happening right now, its going to get better. Maybe not for a while, but It will. I want you to also know i’m here for you. Please, get friends to rally around you and LOVE on you. You need this. You also deserve this. Don’t be scared or ashamed or sad you’re in this season. People want to pray for you. 

this was the only photo we have of our sweet Elijah when he was born. Shout out to birth photographers because I think they are for sure needed! 

I do wish I could have a few photos I could post and tag on at the end but I really don’t. I didn’t feel pretty. I felt massive and pregnant and it was hard. But i do regret that now. I wish I would have had a photo remembering this hard time and remembering what got me through it. Remembering I beat cancer and I went through a hard season. If you’ve gotten to the end of this. Thank you, thank you for reading. God is so so good to me and i’m so thankful to be cancer free now and to have a healthy almost three year old. I hope and pray that my story was an encouragement to you, and I would love to hear from you if you are in this season of hardship or even if youve just come out of it. I want you to know, I am here for you!

comments +

  1. Kristy

    November 9th, 2018 at 8:08 pm

    You are amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I am so thankful to even just know you!

  2. Jeanie Mankin

    November 9th, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    Ashley, thank you for sharing this. It will strengthen people who are going through trying times. I remember Kathy sending texts to pray for each step you had to take. I’m sure I was one of tbousands who prayed. AND then rejoiced with Thanksgiving after our mighty God did what only He can do. I enjoyed reading this, it brought tears to my eyes to read it in your words. God bless your family! And once again, thank you for giving to the Lord through song. I can honestly say we have literally listened to your CD over 3,000 times. Maybe more. I put my grandson to bed with it on continuous play every night. I am hoping the words if those songs become eternally embedded in his mind.

  3. Linda Busse

    November 9th, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    You truly are a beautiful person inside and out. We are blessed to have you in our lives. Thank you for sharing your journey, what an amazing person you are. You are an inspiration and a light, love how you share your faith and the power of prayer. God bless you and your family.

  4. Pam Anderson

    November 9th, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    I’m so glad you are doing well. You were in my prayers during your hard time.,I’m glad you shared your entire story. It has touched my heart. Sincerely, Pam ( Clyde’s daughter) Snell Anderson

  5. Kathy Snell

    November 9th, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    I’m so thankful for God’s grace , mercy, and healing. You will never know what this valley in your life did for so many others who have prayed for you and watched God work a miracle. I can honestly say I have never prayed for anyone so hard and so long before (and I have been in some dark valleys). I would have taken your place if I could, but this was your valley. You are a blessing, Ashlea, and I’m thankful for you and for the talent and ability God has given you.

  6. Hannah Haney

    November 10th, 2018 at 2:54 am

    Love you girl!! Miss you!

  7. Jacque Holliday

    November 10th, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    Thank you for sharing this testimony. You are a true inspiration. ❤️

  8. Kari Pritzl

    November 10th, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    Ashlea I am crying and so happy for you!!! I’ve been following your work forever it seems and am so happy for how your career is taking off!!! Sending prayers your way that you continue to be healthy and your husband and son continue to be healthy as well!!!
    With prayers,
    Kari Pritzl (fellow WI AJ teammate)

  9. Jessa

    November 11th, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    You are an inspiration, boss momma and I am so thankful that you shared your story. Much love from a fellow photog 💕

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