God’s Strawberry Blond Miracle
By Annie Kim
Mrs. Goodman carried a little blue notebook with a black pen attached to the pages. Within these pages, she’d jot down lists of questions for the doctors. Sometimes, her questions stumped them. Mrs. Goodman was a God-fearing mom, not at all intimidated by the intelligence of a doctor. Her five-year-old daughter’s life was on the line. No one was going to come between her ability to take good care of her Ashley. Her questions would be answered before any doctor who treated Ashley could step a foot out that door.
It was Oct. 7, 1995, and Ashley had just turned five a month earlier. The little girl adored the swings. She would sit on the swings and mash the playground sand with her toes. Her hands gripped the metal chains tightly as she used her long, skinny legs to push herself high in to the blue sky. Her bright blue dress, embroidered with flowers, danced in the wind. Mrs. Goodman noticed random light pink rashes which ran like road lines on a map across her daughter’s arms and legs. The rashes criss-crossed with bruises, like tie-dyed patterns of purple, pink and red.
The next morning, Mrs. Goodman noticed that Ashley’s skin was several shades darker. Her rashes had turned blood red and her bruises seemed to have grown bigger and darker. That morning, Ashley’s condition was not from the works of mono, which was mistakenly diagnosed the first time around. Mrs. Goodman knew something was terribly wrong and Ashley needed to see a doctor immediately. This time, they went to a different pediatrician.
After the tests, Mrs. Goodman looked the doctor straight in the eye and immediately asked, “She has leukemia, doesn’t she?” He replied softly, “I believe so.” Ashley’s body lay limp on the table.
According to National Institutes of Health, regular child leukemia has a 90-95 percent cure rate. Doctors told Mrs. Goodman that high-risk leukemia in children cut the cure rate by nearly half. Ashley had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which was high risk.
The family drove back home from the doctor’s office in silence. They had to quickly pack and immediately take Ashley to Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. They had to get it together. Ashley didn’t need the tears; she needed the strength and courage from her parents. She needed to see the forced smiles. This was their first of countless car rides from Camarillo to the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.
At the hospital, the first thing they did was hook Ashley up to an IV. Ashley was so ill, she didn’t even flinch. Streaks of dark red blood seeped beneath her skin. She had petechiae — blood vessels in her skin busting, leaving red bloodstains inside of her body. She was bleeding everywhere: inside her skin, through her nose and from her mouth. Massive bruises covered her tiny body. She couldn’t speak. Ashley was almost gone at that point. She needed to be stabilized.
While Ashley’s body fought against the cancer, Mrs. Goodman was right there to fight alongside with her daughter. By that point, she took her little blue notebook everywhere with her. She took notes on when Ashley’s medicine was due, what she currently had, what dosage she was taking, at what time she was taking it, what the symptoms would be from each medicine, etc. The list of questions went on and on. Hospitals, Mrs. Goodman came to discover, were not the efficient places most people envisioned. Ashley’s medicines were always late and even often times mixed up. Without the persistent research done by Mrs. Goodman, Ashley could have died several times. Her blue notebook acted as a guide and gave her direction. Once those questions were written within the pages, that doctor could not step out the door until he answered every one of them.
“What exactly does this chemo do?” “What is the dosage?” “How often does it need to be administered?” “What will the side effects be?” Oftentimes, the doctor would be walking toward the door because her questions would take so long. Mrs. Goodman would follow him, wave her blue notebook in the air and say, “Nope, I’m not done with my questions. I’ve got four more for you!”
Books, Barbie dolls and Barney were Ashley’s favorite things. The three B’s were the only things that made her happy. The little girl loved to read. At the hospital, Mrs. Goodman would pack a stack of books and constantly keep Ashley occupied by reading to her to pass the time from the long, tedious waits. Ashley must have had a hundred Barbie dolls. If Ashley didn’t have a Barbie doll with her, Mrs. Goodman would stop by a toy store just to buy her one.
Barney must have been Ashley’s favorite amongst her favorites. You did not mess with this girl when Barney came on the television. Every day at 7:00 a.m., a stampede came in to see Ashley. Around 10 doctors, three nursing interns and four students with pens, notepads, gathered around Ashley’s bed, bombarding her with the same questions, because the Children’s Hospital was a teaching hospital. And every day at 7:00 a.m., Barney would play on the small black television hung in the middle of the room on the pistachio-colored wall. This purple dinosaur never failed to spread a smile on Ashley’s small, round face. God help those doctors when Barney was on. Ashley would have nothing to do with them. She wouldn’t answer questions. She didn’t look at them. She wouldn’t even spare a second for their time. You did not bother that little girl when she was watching Barney.
On Oct. 19, 1995, the hospital had discharged Ashley from the hospital. Mrs. Goodman felt that something was not right. She was not sure why she felt this way or what had triggered these feelings. Perhaps it was the doings of her motherly instincts.
“She’s not ready to go,” Mrs. Goodman told the doctors. “I don’t feel comfortable with her going home.” They discharged her anyways. Ashley left strands of strawberry blond hair behind on her white pillowcase.
Around 1:00 a.m., Mrs. Goodman discovered Ashley had a fever of 101 degrees.
She knew that when someone was on chemo, a fever could be very deadly. Less than 24 hours since Ashley’s discharge, her family drove her back to the hospital. She began to have some strange reactions that were similar to the conditions of a seizure. The doctors ran test after test after test but never discovered what had happened that night.
On Oct. 28, Ashley was once again sent home. Mrs. Goodman hired their regular hairdresser, Lisa, to cut Ashley’s long curls short. Chemo had already done the job of pulling strands of Ashley’s hair out. She did not want it to be a traumatic experience for Ashley because she would lose all of her beautiful hair. Ashley hated the new haircut, absolutely hated it. As Ashley’s hair began to fall out, Grandma decided to make a game out of it. She showed Ashley how to pull her hair out. Ashley stood in front of the rather large mirror smiling as she easily pulled out chunks of her hair from her head.
Gradually, after the next nine months, the severe leukemia symptoms and physical damages done by chemo slowly disappeared. The dark layer of purple and black bruises began to fade. Thick, strawberry blond curls replaced the thin peach fuzz. The combination of time and love had slowly rebuilt a happy and healthy Ashley.
By 6th grade, Ashley was able to attend school consistently. Her height set her apart from others. She stuck out in P.E. because she had been hospitalized for so long; her coordination wasn’t all there. During the mile-run at school, she was always the last one to finish. Ashley may have been the last pick on the baseball team, but she was always first pick for the Principal’s Honor Roll. She had a GPA of 3.8.
All throughout grade school and high school, very few of her friends knew about her battle against leukemia. Ashley never wanted to talk about it. She hated being different. She just wanted to be normal. She hated needles. She hated masks. She hated hospitals- the smell, thought, and place of it. Ashley hated the thought of being sick.
But something happened when Ashley was 17. She always prayed before she went to bed. One night, she had an epiphany and realized her life calling was to become a pediatric oncologist.
“For years, I couldn’t even talk about it, not even with my family. I had kept it hidden. So for me to just suddenly say I am going to be a doctor and immerse myself in that world was just so different. I didn’t want to do that. What I wanted was to treat these kids with compassion and give them the best care on a more personal level,” she said. She believed it was God working through her.
Today, Ashley Goodman majors in biology here at UC Irvine. Her battle with cancer wasn’t supposed to allow her to make her high school’s varsity basketball and water polo team. She wasn’t supposed to play any type of physical sport, yet alone, the two of the most physical sports out there. She wasn’t supposed to score above the 90th percentile on the MCATS. She wasn’t supposed to be the only undergraduate working on UCI’s leukemia research team. She wasn’t supposed to get in to Med school. She wasn’t supposed to be an aspiring pediatric oncologist. But she did, and she is.
“The whole experience really did shape me,” Goodman said. “It was just so hard to talk about it and I just wanted to push all of it away. I wanted to pretend that it wasn’t me. I really just wanted to be normal. But now, I am able to embrace that difference. I am alive and that’s a miracle. God shaped me in a positive way for His plan. He was so in that experience. Every day with little reminders from my mom and family. Experiences like that can rip a family apart or they can draw a family closer together. I am so blessed. I really think that it was God and He was just with us. Even through it all, we didn’t feel forsaken. It was a horrible experience but there was a lot of good that came out of it. ”
By the year of 2005, Goodman was in remission.
By July 2010, the hospital announced that she was fully cured of leukemia.
This past year, Mrs. Goodman threw out her little blue notebook.