Cancer survivor walking tall
Asha John is walking around with an ‘S’ on her chest.
After two years of pain and fighting for her life, the 23-year-old is not letting anything get her down and is now more thankful for life than ever before.
Before her life-threatening illness, John was like any other girl. In her words, it was all about, “beach, makeup and clothes”.
“I am a fashion girl and I like nuff dressing up,” she admitted in an interview with Barbados TODAY.
But in 2014, osteosarcoma – a rare type of bone cancer – threatened her life.
It started out as knee pain, but escalated to something much worse.
“In June 2014, when I was working at Eddies Trading as a cashier, I had a pain in my left knee and I didn’t pay it any attention. I’m not a person who gets sick so I ignored it. In July, I was wearing a knee band and I went Soca on the Hill and I ‘do bad’. Then I decided to go to the doctor because it wasn’t getting any better. I went to the clinic and the doctor told me I had strained ligaments. So I asked him how that was possible, since I didn’t play any sports or anything like that?
“I went to another doctor and my mistake was telling this doctor the other doctor told me I have strained ligaments. So he automatically told me I had strained ligaments. So I asked him if he wasn’t going to give me an X-ray to see what the problem was, because my knee wasn’t getting any better. He cursed me and told me don’t tell him how to do his job,” John recalled.
She then made the decision to go to a private doctor to figure out what was really going on with her knee. And, at the age of 21, she was diagnosed with arthritis.
“I was taking a lot of medication and my knee still wasn’t getting better. By that time my knee was bent. In 2014, I had Chikungunya as well so my knee was bent and it wasn’t straightening. My calves and everything [were] getting small. I lost confidence in myself, so it was just to the doctor and home,” John said.
She is a believer that everything happens exactly when it’s supposed to. And a trip to England to visit her aunt, after more than 10 years of wanting to take the journey, came at just the right time. In fact, John believes it saved her life.
“February 2nd  I was going to England for a three-week vacation. My ticket was booked since September. I was still walking good, just a little limp. But by February, it was all over so I was going to cancel my flight. But something told me ‘just go ahead and do the trip’. . . . I was real disappointed and depressed but I still went. I went in a wheelchair and when I got there my aunt met me with crutches,” the former Frederick Smith Secondary School student explained.
“I was to come back to Barbados the 22nd of February. At the time my uncle was in Antigua and when my aunt told him how my knee looked, he told her take me to the doctor. So I went to the doctor and he asked me how I could have arthritis at 21. I told him what medication I was taking and so on, and he transferred me to an arthritis doctor and they were giving me therapy to try and straighten the knee. That was very painful. He sent me for an X-ray and that is when they saw the cancer in my knee. He came to my house to tell me it is cancer – osteosarcoma,” John recalled.
After a further scan, she was informed that the cancer had spread to her ankle and she would need to have the leg removed. And as if that news wasn’t already devastating, the young woman was then informed that the cancer had spread to her lungs.
“At first they told me I would have to get a knee replacement. Then, quick so, I heard I would have to lose the entire foot. My mother came down to England. . . . Everything happened really fast. After I had the scans it also showed it went to my lungs. I had 10 cancer particles in both lungs.”
John began chemotherapy on April 21. It proved to be tough for the fashionista.
“My hair was long and I was really fussy with my hair. I had it dyed red and I used to wear it in a bun. . . .I started chemo Thursday, and by the Sunday my hair was gone. It didn’t even give me time to enjoy the last bit of hair. When I heard it was going to drop out, I said ‘let me shave off the sides so it would drop out in style,” she reminisced with a chuckle.
John said the next few months of her life were the roughest, but with the support of her family and her faith in God, she pulled through.
“Chemo was really hard. I had sores in my mouth, my skin was really dry. I used to do arts and crafts to pass the time. I used to sing real hard. . . . Music helped me get through it, plus my mom. She was there for two months, in the worst times. I had chemo for nine months and most of those nine months I was in the hospital, which wasn’t good,” she said.
After the surgery, John was nervous about looking down at where her leg used to be, but she was glad she was no longer in so much pain. She subsequently got a prosthetic leg.
Now, John is back in Barbados and getting on with her life. Her current goal is to earn her driver’s licence.
“March 6 at 8:30 I will be up there to get my licence,” she declared with a broad smile.
In the long term, John hopes to help young girls at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital who are suffering from cancer.
“I would . . . see if I could go and talk to the little girls and probably get sponsorship to help get little wigs for them, so they could at least feel pretty,” the bubbly young woman explained, recalling her experience in hospital in England where she was given makeup while in hospital.
“That’s one thing that used to help me. When you put on the makeup you feel pretty and that would help. I used to be in my bed dolled up.”
John has some advice for others going through hard times: “Keep positive. Whatever trials come your way, keep faith in God. Whatever is for a man he would get in the right time.”