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Mindset is everything

Last Modified: August 25, 2021


Cancer patient

This post was written based on an interview with Ashleigh Moran-Dunno, patient, Parkview Cancer Institute.

Historically, I had always had really bad periods. But a few years ago, my symptoms started to worsen. I was experiencing heavy bleeding, to the point of nearly passing out, and I just felt like something wasn’t right. I was seeing a different OB/GYN, and she tried switching my birth control, thinking it was hormone related. She never did a pelvic exam, because of my insurance, and to be honest, I don’t blame her. I had a healthy child, had a healthy pregnancy and breastfed. There was nothing to indicate cancer.

I went back a couple of times with the same symptoms. Finally, when nothing worked, I decided to let my body “detox.” I went off of everything. The symptoms only got worse.

I decided to go see Thomas Miller, MD, PPG – OB/GYN, at Parkview. We had a conversation, he did some bloodwork and he said, “Let’s take a look.” During his exam, he found a rather large tumor. I was bleeding pretty severely, and he had me over at the Parkview Cancer Institute with Dr. Iwona Podzielinski and her nurse practitioner, Lauren Tom, within 45 minutes.

Establishing a treatment plan

Everything moved very quickly from there. I was diagnosed with cervical cancer on August 23, 2019, and staged 1B-3 that day. I was 27 years old. The original plan was to do chemotherapy and radiation.

A few weeks later, based on my PET scan and bloodwork, it appeared that the cancer was smaller than the team originally thought, it hadn’t spread and there was no lymph node involvement. I was restaged to 1B-2. That was on a Thursday.

The following Monday, on September 23, 2019, exactly one month from my diagnosis, I had a radical hysterectomy. It turned out that my tumor was in fact larger than expected and there was lymph node involvement, so Dr. Podzielinski had to quickly react and address the situation. I had my ovaries shifted up higher in my stomach so that I would continue to produce estrogen.  

We went back to the original plan for care. I am part of a research trial, and did seven weeks of concurrent chemotherapy, then radiation and internal radiation after that. Today I am in remission.


Being your own advocate

Throughout this process, I learned just how important it is to do your own research, collaborate with your care team and be your own advocate. For instance, I do want more children someday. Dr. Podzielinski helped me connect with Northwestern so that I could freeze my eggs and keep that as an option. The resources are there, you just have to find them and be clear about your wishes.

When I was diagnosed, I had a 6-year-old. The first day was very overwhelming, but I made the decision that I was going to live and everything was going to be fine. I kept that positive attitude about everything. I know that’s easier said than done, but it helped me through my journey.

I’m not saying I didn’t have breakdowns. I remember the day I was diagnosed. When I got off the elevator on the fourth floor of the Cancer Institute, my mom was pushing me in a wheelchair and I know I looked terrible. There was a man walking down the hall and he looked at me and then looked away. He pretended he was looking at photos on the wall. I realized that now people are categorizing me as cancer, not as a person who has cancer, and is fighting it. It was so disheartening.

Everybody can heal. We have such great doctors and science, but that’s only half of it. You have to be willing to do the work to heal, from the inside out. Everything from your thoughts, to exercise, to the food and drink you put into your body. Don’t just go to treatments. Find out what else you can do to create a healthy life.

You attract what you put out; I really do believe that. Positive energy and mindset go a long way, for you and your care team, as well as the people around you.


Every time I talk about my journey or walk into a doctor’s office, the first thing people comment on is how young I am. I never know what to say. I used to wonder if I’d done something wrong.

But I know I didn’t cause the cancer. Comments like that used to make me angry, but not anymore.

I am in touch with my body and what I'm feeling. Even though providers would say it was something else, I knew in my soul something wasn’t right. I’m a huge advocate and believer in self-healing and holistic medicine, but when our bodies get to a certain point, when it’s uncontrollable, traditional medicine and doctors can do amazing things.

I was tired all the time and doing things like chewing on ice a lot, which I thought was maybe just an iron deficiency. I never thought it was cancer. I was too young. But now I know a lot more people my age who have gone through this. I’ve made so many connections. And I’m so grateful that I kept pushing for answers.

Cancer patient

The Parkview family

I don’t think I've met one person I haven't loved at Parkview. My cancer care team is incredible. Dr. Miller is amazing. He calls to check in on me. I remember this one phlebotomist, whose name I wish I could recall. She came in when I was having a major breakdown. Later she sent me the sweetest letter. Parkview really is one big family.

I will say that this was my journey. Although I would trust Dr. Podzielinski with anything, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to treat anyone like they were above or below me. This was a group of people, and I was part of them, and together we were fighting the cancer. There are a lot of things that they know, that I don’t, but there are also things that I know and can bring to the discussion.

We often look up to doctors like God and that's a lot of pressure on them. It's not their job alone to cure you. It's also your job, in your day-to-day actions and thoughts, to put forth the most effort to heal, in conjunction with your medical treatment. When you have real conversations and share real fears or accomplishments, I think that makes a world of difference. You’re a team, and you have to be an active part of that team, not just turn it all over to someone else. Ask questions, and if you don't understand, continue to have that openness and be persistent in understanding. I brought things to Dr. Podzielinski – supplements and holistic approaches to pair with the medical treatment she was prescribing. We didn’t always align, but we could have those conversations and I felt like an active participant in my journey.  

The path forward

To be honest, I've almost disconnected myself with the fact that I had cancer. I don't think about it anymore. I do Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) therapy every week, which has helped me feel great about where I’ve been and where I’m going. I’ve cleaned up a lot of the things that I believed were contributing to my bad health, both emotionally and physically. I’ve done so much healing from the inside, out. I truly believe it's never going to come back, but I take all the things I've learned and mindset shifts I had during that time to look toward the future and know it's so bright.

I believe God put that cancer in my life to learn and push me on the path I'm supposed to be on. I needed to experience it to be able to support and help and love others through their journeys. And one day, down the line, I’d love to create different support programs to help them be their own advocate and get through their treatment because it is scary and very overwhelming. It all moves so quickly, you don't even know what you don't know. Just because you have a diagnosis, it doesn't mean you're going to die. Doctors are so brilliant, you have every chance you give yourself.

Most of us don’t realize how much our thoughts create our reality. We're here to enjoy and live and be happy and experience all that life has to offer. When you create that reality, that's where you're going to end up.



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