Because I Could Have Said No

Yesterday I picked up a iced coffee from McDonald’s. I know all the cashiers, and they know how I like my coffee. I love them. As I stood there an older man ordered and turned towards me. I knew immediately that I knew him but couldn’t place him.

Me: You look so familiar.
Mr. S: I do?
Me: Oh, I remember. You are Mr. F’s friend.

He looked at me for a second and then a light went off.

Mr. S: That was you!
Me: If you mean at Dr. L’s office, yes. You came to keep Mr. F company during his chemotherapy.  You made me laugh the whole time. The nurses kept kicking you out, but you’d sneak right back in.
Mr. S: Oh boy, we had fun that day.
Me: Yes, thank you.

And then I asked him how Mr. F was and he said:

Mr. F didn’t make it.

And I was reduced to tears in McDonald’s.

Mr. S: Yes, he had a rough time. The cancer went from his throat to his lung and then he just went downhill.

We talked for a few more minutes and then I gave him a hug goodbye.  I saved the huge ugly cry for the car.

This is the dark side of being a cancer survivor.

I met so many people…and many of them didn’t make it. One of them was Sharon. Our treatment coincided on a few days.  I remember she brought this black and white floral handmade quilt that folded into itself.  I thought she might sew for a hobby so I asked her about it.  She was on steroids and she joked to her husband that she had chipmunk cheeks. I asked her about her small hometown in the middle of the desert and how she survived without a Target.

In May 2012 I got an email from her niece Kara:

I don’t know if you will remember a certain beautiful lady that shared time with you (while also receiving her own chemo treatments) in Palm Desert. Her name is Sharon E., and she spends most of her winter months in Blythe. But she sure remembers you! She was diagnosed with Stage 4 Waldenstroms Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in January of this year.

I am her niece Kara, and I just wanted to contact you to give thanks and love for keeping her spirits up while she was in Palm Desert getting her chemo. […] Poor babe was life-flighted from her hometown hospital on May 6 to her current location in Springfield, where she still is this very day (5 days of which she was on life support). You are probably wondering just why I am contacting you. Well, her mood has been more down than up, and there’s been several times we thought we were going to lose her (and we still may) but all logistics aside, I wanted you to know that she spoke to me of your website and of YOU when she was barely able to talk after she was taken off life support. She was very down, and had made the decision to die, was feeling hopeless, tired, frustrated, etc, but we had a rare chance to be alone for awhile, and through a whispered voice she said to me: Lil Blue Boo……of course I questioned…..or actually said, What?

Together we found your website on her phone. I asked her how she found your website, and she replied She’s my friend…from chemo. […]  She’s been very concerned about you during her whole ordeal, and I just wanted to share that love with you. I will never know the relationship of your talks or friendship, but I wanted you to know that somehow you made a big impact on her during your visits. I just wish she had the fight in her that you have, she did, but it seems to be faded now, as she’s stated to the family that she just wants “to go” and that she’s “tired.” She’s losing faith that she will ever be better. We, as a family, still hold our faith strong that she will get through this, but her will is what’s holding her back now. I guess all we can do is pray. Again, thank you.

I think about this email all the time.  She was concerned about me.  Nothing is more humbling than that.  What did I do to deserve her love?  All I did was flash a smile, make conversation, crack a joke or two. That’s what Mr. S did too, and I realized from the other side what an impact that made: he made my day more bearable, and he didn’t even know me. As I’ve said before: sometimes there is so much light in the world that the darkness should be very afraid.

On October 8, 2012 I got an email from Sharon:

I’m home after 92 days in the hospital, feeling much better and learning how to walk again. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the necklace you sent me–you’re a sweetheart and each time I saw you at our treatments you managed to pick up the entire room with your positiveness. So glad to see your doing well–God bless and I CHOOSE JOY TOO!! Luv you Sharon

Sharon passed away 8 days later.


Looking back, here’s what I am thankful for: That I said yes to Sharon.


That I said yes to Mr. F.

That I said yes to the cranky man who didn’t want to sit next to me.

That I said yes to the young girl who was scared just like me.

That I said yes to the man who yelled expletives in his sleep.

That I said yes to Mr. B whose wife safety pinned notes to his shirt for the doctor.

That I said yes to the woman who refused to let the hairdresser cut off the last patch of hair she had left.

That I said yes to the elderly woman who teared up when she talked about her daughter.

That I said yes to the man who used to sell encyclopedias in his younger years.

That I said yes to the elderly woman who announced she was wearing a diaper to the entire infusion center.

That I said yes to the man with lung cancer and his friend Scott who asked for my autograph. I was famous for a day.

That I said yes to Mr. W who once won the lottery, but had already lost 2 wives to cancer.

That I said yes to the woman with pancreatic cancer who said she was worried about her husband, because she knew she was going to die.

That I said yes to the woman who said she wanted to throw up every time she had to step foot in an oncology office.

That I said yes to the man who wished he could send a ham sub through his stomach tube.

That I said yes to the young man who had testicular cancer for the second time.

That I said yes to the woman who could knit in her sleep.

That I said yes, yes and yes.

And that every single one said yes back to me.

Because I could have said no. I didn’t always feel like saying yes. I could have felt sorry for myself. I could have sulked.  I had the right to. I had cancer. I felt miserable. I said no to cancer, but I said yes to the rest. The cancer patients and their families and friends that I met along the way are precious to me. They are part of my story, and I am a part of theirs. And they woke something inside of me.

Because I could have said no. I didn't always feel like saying yes. I could have felt sorry for myself. I could have sulked.  I had the right to. I had cancer. I felt miserable. I said no cancer, but I said yes to the rest. #quote via


Farewell Mr. F, for now.
Rest in peace.



The last 30 days of posts for the Year of Joy can be found here.


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  1. Trisha Ashley says

    I’m absolutely reduced to tears right now Ashley…YES…Thank YOU for sharing this beautiful post today!!! <3

  2. says

    I’m on the verge of tears — I’ve not experienced anything like this, but I am working on saying yes more often. There was a bigger boy I went to school with for years. He wanted to get to know me but I said no even though he was a nice boy & he lived nearby. He died in my senior year. I wish I’d said yes. I especially want to say yes to my daughter & husband — you just never know how much time you have with people closest to you. I always think I’m more prepared than others because I don’t ever for a second doubt that bad things can strike close to home, but if something happens to me, I want them to know I said yes more than no. If something happens to them, I want to know that I said yes as often as I could. Thank you for posting this.

  3. Kathy says

    It can be so easy to say no; thank you for the reminder for all the reasons (people) to say yes. It’s amazing how a smile and shared time (even during chemo) can build a lasting connection. I love how God uses you to choose and share joy. xo

  4. Helen says

    I receive your newsletter (appreciate it so much!) and so enjoy your writings about your life, struggles and CHOOSING JOY. I receive daily mediations, “Bread for the Journey”, from the Henri Nouwen Society. Yesterday’s meditation couldn’t help but remind me of you and your mission to spread the message to CHOOSE JOY, which is still a concept I would really like to grasp, but haven’t gotten there yet! But here is what it said:

    “Thursday January 30, 2014
    Choosing Joy

    Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently than the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.

    What makes us human is precisely this freedom of choice.”

    Just wanted to share it with you because it bears witness to your encouragement and reminders of the same thing.

    It’s so wonderful to know that you also choose YES and bring light and love and laughter to so many in their dark times. What a gift you are because of your choices. I appreciate you being an example of how that can be done!

    Blessings and Joy!!

  5. Rose D., Frenchtown, NJ says

    You’re amazing and you make such a HUGE impact on all the people you meet!

  6. Sue says

    I read your blog religiously. I do not know where you get this inspiration and this willingness to share. You also have a depth of experience and perspective that very few have. I am hoping that somehow you get some positive energy from the replies you receive, because your readers certainly get so much from you!

  7. Suzie says

    Ashley, I needed to hear this today. Thank you. I tend to be negative and am working hard on saying “yes”. And you have shown how saying “yes” is the same as choosing joy, even to the knowledge that joy shared is joy returned. You have a lovely ability to use your words to convey a powerful message. Again, my thanks.

  8. Heather H says

    It is indeed No accident that you were put in these peoples paths, and they put in yours. I am awed and humbled, inspired and grateful for you. And have learned that saying yes is choosing joy. God bless you.

  9. Maggie O says

    Last week, my good husband had his fourth surgery in six years to remove a cancerous tumor from his bladder. He is a Downwinder, having been exposed to radiation fallout as a toddler to pre-schooler in the early 1950’s. His father died of a malignant brain tumor nearly 40 years ago, because of that exposure..
    We’ve had a difficult time post-op this go round, and it is so very easy to feel sorry and sad about what we are dealing with.
    I’ve been especially down since a trip to the ER last night, because of the intense pain and inability to empty his bladder.
    As I read your post, I have been able to step back, take a deep breath, and say “yes” to looking for and finding JOY.
    As cancers go, this kind is cancer with a small ‘c’, instead of Cancer, as so many are. We know that the prognosis is so very good if he has regular screenings. We have a wonderful doctor, and a great hospital, and family, neighbors, and friends who are willing and anxious to offer love, support, and anything we might need. It is easy to wallow in the quicksand of self-pity! How grateful I am that you helped me crawl back out of that slime, and refocus on the blessings and beauty that are visible from a positive perspective! You have blessed me before, and you do so again today. Thank you for saying “yes”, and for sharing the joy that comes from that decision!

  10. says

    My sister told me about your blog and I am so glad because you are such an inspiration to me! I have a small organizing business and on its Facebook page i wrote about the art of saying no gracefully. Today when I read your post I thought about the Importance if saying yes, too. I hope you don’t mind but I reposted it on my Facebook page along with you blog website address. I just think that everyone of us needs to hear this Yes message.
    Thank you for sharing your heart!

    P.S. My fb page is Simplify With Joy if you want to see it. :)

  11. says

    While I don’t go into oncology offices, I do go into my arthritis doctors office for infusions every 8 weeks which is now moved down to every 6 weeks. I always bring something to read, but generally never get around to reading it as we all tend to talk about the good things and bad about our diseases, including the young lady that comes for an infusion for her Chrones Disease (not sure about the spelling) she always looks so sick and this last time she had a migraine that had lasted at that point for several days, but you can’t miss your infusion day so there she was. TV commercials for these meds show people bebopping around in their life as if they don’t have a single twinge of pain…ever. Two weeks ago, I had a pain free day and felt good for the first time in years. Unlike some diseases arthritis can make you feel miserable day after day, year after year with little hope of a cure. Not a single person in the office on infusion day any of the times I have been looked at all up to doing much, but most of us have also said yes to being the best we can be, encouraging each other along and offering the support we can, because frankly most people out in the world don’t understand what we are going through.

    Thank you for your writings as I rarely see anything so frank and open that I can relate to. While some may say that cancer is so much worse than arthritis, pain is pain, discomfort is discomfort, the inability to do what you would like to do is the same, and so on. And there is no cure, just stop gap measures that sometimes work. We also have to say Yes to the world and think about what God wants of us in the midst of the pain.

  12. Christy says

    It is amazing how God gives you little tidbits when you least expect it but really need it. At old friend visited me this morning unexpectedly from out of town. Her message she was delivering for me from Him was 1,000 gifts. I started crying instantly out of no where. Now this message from you. Choose JOY! Sometimes I need to be knocked over the head with it. I think I am going to make signs to put all over my house and my classroom. (I am a crazy art teacher.) I need the reminders constantly.
    My, how God has blessed you and worked through you. Praise Him! Thank you for sharing your message with me, and everyone else. . .

  13. Christie says

    All I can say right now is thank you, and I love you.
    You are light. You are joy.
    God bless you!

  14. Donna Hollingsworth says

    I shared your link on Facebook. It is so beautifully written and so genuine! I lost both of my in-laws to cancer and was there to take care of them throughout their fight. One of my friends lost her 6 year-old son to brain cancer this past summer. If it weren’t for the kindness of others, an occasional smile, or even a hug from a stranger, I don’t think many of us could deal with the heart break and worry that Cancer causes. Thank you so much for sharing your story and touching the lives of others with your thoughtfulness, laughter, and tears.

    Blessings to you and your family!


  15. says

    Wow. This is an incredible and touching post. tears streamed down my face as i read this. having lost my brother to cancer, this stuff just tears through my heart. one thing i’ve been striving towards is making a difference in peoples lives. i’ve been searching my heart for how to do that, when it’s just so simple – be there for people. Be available and be present. so incredible.

  16. Christie says

    i’ve been asked by a friend to be the speaker at a mom’s group coming up. ugh. I am not comfortable with this but I have to say, you have inspired me. “I could have said No”, but I believe there is so much good in saying “yes”, even when it means stepping out of your comfort zone. If you would please tuck away a prayer for my ability to do this worthily I would greatly appreciate it. You continue to be an inspiration to so many…all the way across the country I am choosing to say yes, to seek JOY.
    Thank you!

    • says

      Yes do it! I am so glad I said yes to giving a testimony on Christmas Eve. I was so nervous but each time it gets easier. Tell your story Christie. I’ll pray for courage. You’ll do great.

      • Christie says

        oh thank you! Every time I think of it I get nauseous! ha! I could use the prayers.
        God bless!

  17. says

    I had to read this in segments. From the above comments, it’s apparent the deeply personal places this post has touched. For me, it’s my girlfriend who has just fought her third go-round with ovarian cancer. I lead the women’s ministry at our church and we just had a women’s day conference entitled, ‘Legacy’. She was on the panel of women who spoke specifically how God has worked through other women in their lives, as well as how He uses them for others. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Not just in the emotional for the moment, but for the truth – we don’t know how long we have, so for the time we have – make it count. Thank you for inspiring and encouraging us to continue to say yes. May God bless you.

  18. Ashley says

    I have been reading your site for a couple of years now and this is my first comment. I just wanted to say how much I love your posts. They are heartfelt and sincere and funny and inspiring. I love that you speak your truth so keep it up! I know you are just a human like the rest of us but God is using you to inspire others and remind us that ordinary people are EXTRAORDINARY. Thanks for the laughs and the tears! God bless you!