When Ashli Brehm was 24, her doctor gave her some important advice.
“’Maybe by the time you are 32 or 33, you could be done having your children,’” Ashli’s doctor told her. Ashli suffered from chronic high blood pressure that started when she was a teenager. The doctor worried about how that condition would impact her pregnancies.
Ashli is now grateful that she listened to that doctor. She and her husband, Adam, started their family soon thereafter. And, at age 32, she gave birth to the last of her tribe of three boys.
At age 33, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Now age 35, Ashli is considered a breast cancer survivor. The Omaha mom started her Baby on the Brehm blog nine years ago when she was pregnant with her first child. She continued to blog throughout her breast cancer treatments and is now a sought-after inspirational speaker at events around the state.
“I’m not trying to change the world,” Ashli said. “But if I can make someone’s day a little better, that’s my hope.”
Ashli has a unique talent to make audiences laugh and cry as she relates stories of struggling to breastfeed children, mothering her colicky preemie babies and smooshing her small breasts into a mammogram machine.
Her message is clear and motivating: Enjoy each day as a gift, accept help when offered and connect with others in the world.
“I really truly believe God put us all here to be together,” Ashli said. “I don’t think we were meant to do our fight alone. You just never know what one little thing will do to change the course of somebody’s life or day.”
Finding Breast Cancer
Just when Ashli’s life seemed to be returning to normal after her third son transitioned from a baby to a toddler, she noticed a lump while “smooshing” into a sports bra.
She scheduled a doctor’s appointment for a few days later. As she sat in the doctor’s office with her rambunctious young boys exploring the examining room and “driving” the swivel chair, her world started to unravel around her. The doctor felt the lump and ordered a mammogram for later that day. Then, an ultrasound was needed to get a clearer picture of the mass in her right breast.
Ashli had no family history of breast cancer, no history of smoking, and she had nursed all of her babies. But, doctors determined the 2-centimeter mass in her right breast was cancer. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lives, and she became part of that group.
The night of the mammogram, Ashli attended a wedding reception where reality set in. She burst into tears when the country song “I Hope You Can Dance” played as happy couples mingled about her.
“We all have that moment, if we’ve been there, where we thought maybe this was going to be the worst thing that ever happened to us,” Ashli said. “And, I looked at my husband, and I left the room, and he came out and asked what’s wrong? I said I think I’m going to die from this.”
Her thoughts immediately went to her small children and her husband and how they would manage without her.
In the next several weeks, Ashli underwent three biopsies. Doctors determined she had Triple Positive Stage 2 breast cancer. It was classified as angiolymphatic invasion, meaning it was in the small blood vessels and lymph vessels in her breast. Doctors performed a bilateral mastectomy. In October 2015, she started chemotherapy followed by 28 rounds of radiation.
Ashli said Sept. 4, 2015, (the date of her mammogram) is what she calls the start of her “extra time.”
“At age 33, that is when my extra time started,” Ashli said. “Because every day that I’ve gotten since then is a blessing. Every day that I get to wake up and see my kids is a gift. It doesn’t always feel like a gift. Sometimes, it feels like a big plate of crap. It’s not always a great day. But, it’s a day. We are not going to change the world every day, but maybe we can make our little corner of the world brighter.”
Ashli’s cancer treatments are complete, and her prognosis looks great. She is grateful for the medical care she received at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha near her home.
She has now searched to find the lessons and meaning in the serious battles she endured – infections, hospitalizations, sickness and having to agree to help in caring for her children after surgery.
She has learned that saying yes to help can be a life-saver.
“A lot of things in life are hard,” Ashli said. “Some are called cancer. Some are called infertility. Some are called abuse. Some are called your kid is screaming at Target, and you don’t know what to do. We don’t have to do this alone. I don’t think God puts us on this earth to live in solitude. I think he puts us here to be in a community of people.”
She wishes she would have said yes to help when she struggled through her early days of motherhood.
“My biggest fears were not being a good enough mom for my kids, not being a good enough wife or what will people think of me if I do or don’t say yes,” Ashli said. “After cancer, it’s just so wildly different. I really don’t fear a lot of things.”
She said the news and events going on around the world can leave one feeling depressed, but she sees a different world.
“When you get out in the world and you see the people who are actually out there and you realize how great and kind and good all those people are, it just makes you feel so good about the direction of the world,” Ashli said. “I got to see that daily when I was sick because everyone was pouring out their hearts and their hope and their resources to our family.”
She summed up the lessons she learned in a blog post she wrote on her phone on Memorial Day weekend 2017 called, “Wear the Damn Swimsuit.”
“I’ve realized this: if in my 35 years, there hasn’t been a year in more than 3 decades that I can recall being one hundred percent ‘comfortable’ in a suit… then I’m the one holding myself back. I’m the one comparing my legs and stomach and booty. And I gotta let it go. If I want to truly live in the moment of the moments… I’ve got to Elsa the situation.
“And so I must tell you. What I learned from cancer. Is this. All of this.
“Wear the damn swimsuit. Wear it. If you want to be in on the action. Splashing with kiddos. Soaking up the sun. Not caring if you get soaked. Not caring that your thighs are friends.”
Be inspired by reading the rest of Ashli’s blog here: Wear the Damn Swimsuit