My name is Ashleigh Dahlgren. I am 24 years old and I live in Saint Helens, OR. I used to work a lot and used my spare time to hang out with my red tick coonhound and my ﬁancé. We would go for drives, walk around the park and even go hang out with our friends and family.
In 2020 the pandemic hit and the world seemed to get us down. On June 11, 2020, I got engaged to my best friend, it was a wonderful night in our little town. Around this time I had noticed I was really sore in my neck, I brushed it o as sore muscles due to all the stress I had been under. Thought nothing of it and went about life.
Fast forward a few months, in September I had enough. I was still super sore and I was in a lot of pain. I made a doctor's appointment to see my Primary Care Provider but a week prior to that appointment I found myself at the Urgent Care in town because the pain had gotten to be too much, I needed some relief. The doctor there told me that it was a cervical strain and to take the muscle relaxers he prescribed me and went on my way. I still went to see my PCP because the muscle relaxers were not working and I was still in pain. He told me the same thing Urgent Care did, prescribed me different muscle relaxers and massages.
I then got a call from a Chiropractor in town and made an appointment. I went in and she felt my neck, she knew something was up. My neck was super stiff and needed to pop, it almost had the entire visit. She told me that I had a vertebra out of place then asked if I wanted to wait a week to pop it or pop it now, I told her it was ok to pop it now. It popped and I was a little sore but I did feel a little better. She expressed that I would be sore for a little while but that if I was still in a lot of pain in a couple of weeks to let her know.
Those weeks passed and I told her I was still in a lot of pain so she ordered an x-ray. That was when it all began. After going and getting my x-ray, I got a call from my PCP and my chiropractor saying not to freak out when I get a call to go and get an MRI.
In November my world completely changed nothing but doctor appointments, tests, and scans. After getting the call to schedule an MRI I got a call to make an appointment at the spine center. This had me a little freaked but not as freaked as looking at that ﬁrst image that they took of my neck. My spine surgeon had told my mother and me that I had a mass of some sort on my C3 vertebrae. It took up the entire vertebrae and wrapped around to the front of my throat. I would need to schedule a CT-guided biopsy. I spent all of November and December doing more scans, the biopsy, and I did an angiogram.
On December 29, 2020, I went to work like I did every day. Minutes after clocking on I forgot something in my car so I ran back out then I got that call that no one wants. The results were back, I had Chondrosarcoma cancer in my C3 vertebrae. I was absolutely devastated. I went back inside after the call was done and I had a minute to collect myself. I then spent the next 4 hours trying to ﬁnd someone to come cover my shift, no one responded and my boss couldn’t come cover for me due to working the AM shift at the other store. I called my family and gave them the news. My mom came to my work with a family friend and I cried. She later brought my ﬁance to my work and he sat in the lobby all night with me. I tried leaving work early, I almost walked out that night because my boss wouldn’t answer me for hours. Then I ﬁnally got the OK to go home “early”, I had been there since 2:30 pm and didn’t get to leave till 8:30 pm (I usually worked till 10:30 pm).
In February I went into surgery to get it removed. I had to sign a release saying that they could take photos for medical journals due to my cancer being in a rare spot for my type of cancer. Before I went in for surgery I noticed that my hands started going numb and I was getting more stiff. By the time I went in for surgery cancer had started putting pressure on my spinal cord and had wrapped around one of my vascular arteries. The angiogram showed that it was ok to take one in surgery if needed, and it was. My surgeon also had to clip a couple of nerves when he took out cancer. I went in on February 18, 2021, to get put into my halo for surgery. I went through three major surgeries in a week. When all was said and done, I have about two vertebrates missing and I now have a titanium plate at the base of my skull, rods, and screws down to my T1, and a part of my hip acting as a cage for the front of my throat. My chondrosarcoma was the size of an English mun. I was told that chemotherapy wouldn’t do anything for my type of cancer, so my options were radiation or just wait and do scans.
I stayed in the hospital for about a month, during this month I taught myself how to walk and swallow again. It was a very rough road and very depressing. I had a feeding tube and an intubation tube both down my nose. I struggled, and still do, with the fact that I feel broken and just not the same anymore. I know that I am not the same but the wait of seeing if it comes back or not is scary and nerve-racking.
At this moment in time, I am now just doing scans to make sure that it is not coming back. If for some reason I do get it again, I will either go to radiation to get it or go back and do another surgery. Currently, my bone fusion is going well and no cancer so far. I hope and pray that it stays that way. I would not have been able to get through this without my ﬁance and my family. I have become this strong woman who has fought cancer and survived. My ﬁance calls me his “Strong Warrior Goddess” and it still gets me. My story isn’t done yet, but I am not gonna let the fear of having to live with this control me.