I am thankful

STORY BY Julie Schillings

Two individuals share their stories of endurance, gratitude and even humor. Their ability to find blessings amidst adversity is inspirational.

Cancer is not funny! But laughter is a powerful medicine

Ashleigh Steadham never intended to be a cancer survivor at age 30. Nobody ever does. She is a busy mom of two boys, wife and a part time reserve officer. While police training made her tough, nothing prepared Ashleigh for the unexpected, unwelcome, un-everything that cancer brings with it.

“At your age, this lump is likely a cyst and nothing to worry about,” doctors reassured Ashleigh when she inquired about the unusual lump. An inconclusive mammogram was followed by a puzzling sonogram. Doctors proceeded with minor surgery to remove the cyst, which did not appear to be cancerous. Unfortunately the pathology report concluded differently and Ashleigh was diagnosed with invasive ductal cell carcinoma in situ. Breast cancer at age 29.

That was 20 months ago. 7 doctors, 4 surgeries, 6 chemotherapy sessions and hundreds of doctors appointments later, Ashleigh is now cancer-free. Ashleigh is thankful for numerous things, as one can imagine.

“I am most thankful for my husband and children not letting me go a single day without laughing,” — Ashleigh Steadham

She has an academy-award-winning-acceptance-speech type of list. At the top are Ashleigh’s mom and grandmother who help with the boys, manage the household and drive to appointments. Her medically trained husband, Matt, who did not flinch at the sight of her incisions, drains or the side effects from chemo. Friends who kept her family well-fed and shared laugh-out-loud moments. Doctors and their staff who put up with her sense of humor and eventually cracked a few jokes of their own. Cox On-Demand television kept her company on many sleepless nights. She has a new appreciation of the color pink because it signifies the millions of people dedicated to finding a cure for breast cancer.

Ashleigh is still recovering from a recent hysterectomy and will continue to take estrogen blockers. She celebrates that God has blessed her with the birth of two healthy sons before cancer. With the utmost sincerity Ashleigh said, “I am most thankful for my husband and children not letting me go a single day without laughing.”

Ashleigh believes that her journey is not about surviving but about taking what God gives you and thriving. Resolved to not live in fear or in anticipation of the cancer returning, Ashleigh says that cancer does not define her. Cancer has, however, helped to define the most important aspects of her life...appreciation for family and laughter, lots of laughter.

Colby Liston, 18, possesses the qualities of an exceptional athlete with his confident attitude, hard work ethic and dedication to teamwork. The Derby High School graduate is recognized for his leadership on the football field and in track as well as his ability in the classroom.

“Colby never lets anybody tell him that he can’t do something,” shared proud father, Matt Liston. Playing division 6A football at 130 pounds (on both sides of the ball) exemplifies his determination and talent. In fact, the coaches named Colby All-State Defensive Back for his command of the backfield. Colby graduated in May with honors, an impressive 4.1 grade point average and ready to begin the next chapter in life as a college student. The University of Kansas recruited him to be a part of their elite honors program where he is majoring in petroleum engineering.

In August, Colby, along with the rest of the world, was watching the 2012 Summer Olympics as Oscar Pistorius of South Africa raced on his carbon- fiber prosthetic legs. Then the unthinkable happened. A few weeks into the school year an accident pinned Colby between two cars near the KU campus. Doctors were forced to remove Colby’s legs just below the knee. He was now a bilateral amputee just like fellow 400-meter runner, Pistorius.

Determined to continue living his life no differently than he would have before the accident, Colby works hard to develop his physical independence. He is a typical 18-year-old who plays catch with his younger brother, hangs out with friends and attends Friday night football games. “There will be speed bumps in life but you cannot let it change who you are,” explains Colby, “Don’t let adversity define you.” It is that positive attitude that has turned Colby into a local hero.

The Derby High School football team has dedicated their season to Colby. They are showing their support by wearing stickers on their helmets with Colby’s former jersey number, nine. One exemplary freshmen player each week is selected to suit up and stand on the sidelines of the varsity game as honorary number nine. The player chosen is an athlete who demonstrates exceptional work ethic and integrity. Much inspiration comes from witnessing the determination of others. Colby provides that extra spark for his former teammates as the Panthers battle their way to the Kansas State Championship this fall. The team considers Colby an inspiration to young athletes and students throughout the area.

“I have always been told that I can do anything that I want, and after the accident, it just inspires me to work harder,” — Colby Liston

The Derby community has activated a literal army of supporters for Colby and the Liston family. “Team Liston” is selling t-shirts and wrist bands. They have hosted a golf tournament and a 5-kilometer run. Local restaurants have donated proceeds to the Colby Liston Recovery Fund. The Derby Recreation Commission has established the fund to help with long-term medical expenses. Contributions may be made at the Derby Recreation Center, all local Verus Bank locations and at the Oaklawn Activity Center. Donations also may be made by calling the recreation commission at (316)788-3781. The Liston family has been an active part of the Derby community for many years, and they are thankful, overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of support from their friends, neighbors and even complete strangers.

Instead of living with anger or fear, Colby is embracing this new challenge. Colby took his first steps on his new prosthetics only five weeks after the accident, gaining strength and stability with each daily practice. He is taking on-line classes at KU this spring and will be back in Lawrence by fall. Colby will soon be sporting the most technologically advanced set of knees. A microprocessor will anticipate Colby’s movements and adapt instantaneously in order to function as close to a natural leg as possible. It is so sensitive that he will be able to feel when he has stepped on a rock via signals sent through the microprocessor attached to his upper leg.

Walking on slopes, going up stairs and walking backwards can be immensely challenging with a normal prosthetic, but Colby’s knees will optimize his gait and give him a much more natural feeling and looking walk. He will attend bilateral boot-camp in the spring where Colby will endure intense physical therapy and training. Success stories are shared of those who leave boot-camp with the ability to drive a stick-shift with a normal foot clutch.

Once the healing has progressed, Colby will be fitted with running blades. He and his doctors believe that his goal to compete at a high level is well within reach. Colby plans to be competition-ready by June so he can participate in the nationally recognized Endeavor Games held at the University of Central Oklahoma. Colby has researched the Paralympic trials and has set his sights on qualifying for the Summer Games in Rio, 2016. When Colby returns to Lawrence in the fall, he hopes to earn a spot on the KU Track and Field team.

As much as Colby’s positive outlook inspires those around him, he too finds strength from others, including family, friends and even complete strangers who have rallied to help him. Colby recently finished reading Tim Tebow’s memoir which revealed how Tebow’s faith and family values, combined with his relentless will to succeed, have molded him into the person that he is today.

“I have always been told that I can do anything that I want, and after the accident, it just inspires me to work harder,” Colby said. With his character of a man, his inner strength and incredible determination, Colby will not achieve only what is possible, but the seemingly impossible.

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