You were diagnosed with sickle cell at birth. How were you able to cope with school and sickle cell?
I had a community of support. My community consisted of my parents, doctors and nurses, local Sickle Cell clinic, and teachers. We all made an effort to keep me healthy without disrupting my education too much. I was a very dedicated student. Whenever I was hospitalized, my teachers knew to send my work. That’s the only thing I wanted to do. Everyone knew that I did not want to get behind or be treated any differently. School was always important to me. Most importantly, I knew my body (what keeps me healthy, what makes me ill). Handling stressful situations and staying focused is key.
How did your childhood and your parents influence you in your choice of career?
Well, I am still on a journey towards my career. My parents always bought me books (my house was packed with all kinds of books) and the Michigan chapter of the SCDAA gave frequent book fairs, thus my love for literature developed. The most memorable books of my childhood were Teddy Bear Towers, Amistad, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and a collection of Maya Angelou’s poetry. Poetry was so important to me. A lady in my church recited a poem every Sunday and I wanted to be a writer like her. In high school, my teachers surprised me with a ticket to hear Dr. Angelou speak at Eastern Michigan University. It changed my life. Initially, growing up with Sickle Cell made me interested in a career in medicine, specifically hematology, however, during my junior year of undergrad, that childhood adoration for literature, writing, and poetry sparked my decision to get a degree in English.
Wow, that’s so amazing. It sounds like you found your passion earlier on. What do you do? What kind of experience and schooling does one need to get your job?
I am a graduate teaching assistant at a university and I also instruct a reading and writing lab for high school students. In order to do either job, you must have at least a Bachelor’s degree. To become a GTA, you must be matriculated into a graduate program. Having patience doesn’t hurt!
So tell us a little bit more about your job?
Well, I usually teach three days week and the rest of my work is less structured. A typical day would begin with reviewing lesson plans, teaching for the allotted time, office hours, and the most time consuming part: grading.
How do you manage SCD and still maintain a thriving career?
Lots and lots of prayer! It’s very difficult having SCD, teaching, and going to grad school. Grad school by itself is quite stressful. It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I stay hydrated, try to minimize stress, always work ahead (just in case I have to be hospitalized, I won’t fall too behind), and remind myself that I am NOT Super Woman. Primarily, my faith in God is what has maintained my career. There are so many obstacles beyond SCD in my life, I choose to depend on the Lord to do what I can’t.
That is such an amazing attitude. Have you noticed a difference in how your coworkers treat you once they know you have SCD?
They recently found out and have been nothing but supportive. It really surprised me because growing up, I experience a mixed bag of reactions (we all know: pity, ignorance, etc.), however, my colleagues stepped up to the plate and extended the most support I have ever received from colleagues in the past. From helping with grading, to bringing me food and just sitting with me; the difference that I noticed was in myself and my need to let my guard down sometimes and allow people who are genuinely willing, to help me. Of course, some had their questions, but that’s natural for people who have never knowingly interacted with someone with SCD.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to join your profession that has sickle cell?
Know that the school can always admit another student and hire another instructor. You and your loved ones, however, can only have one you. Take care of your body first. Learn how to say no and learn how to take a break. Additionally, do not use your illness as a crutch, push yourself to do more and work harder. You will have to work harder than everyone else to ensure your success despite potential pain crises.
So true. Has sickle cell limited any areas of your life?
Not really. The only thing that I felt limited in was my love life. For some reason, I have met a lot of men with the trait, so in that area I am limited. Sickle cell has also affected relationships and my intentions of motherhood. In a past relationship, my boyfriend’s family were pretty mean when they found out I had SCD. They allowed their ignorance to control their opinions of our future together. I allowed their words to make me doubt my ability to give birth and marry. I have had some insecurity about parenting, so I have prepared to adopt, but I am not ruling out pregnancy completely. I am not currently in a relationship, but we’ll see what the future has in store.
When you do reach obstacles in your life, what helps you through it?
God, family, and my goals. When I know I have something that needs to be done, I am more motivated to get healthy as soon as possible. Like I said before, God is my ultimate motivation. There is a story in the bible about the woman with an issue of blood. She had a blood illness for 12 years I believe and was healed after she pressed through a crowd of followers in order to touch Jesus. Though it is a different condition, I like to believe she had Sickle Cell. It reminds me that no matter what, if I press towards the Lord, I will be healed and can do the logically impossible.
Do you have regular pain (more than 2x a week)? How do you cope with this when you are working?
I don’t have pain as often as 2+ a week, but I do have pain sometimes. When I am working, it is hard to take medicine and focus, so I try to treat the pain as early as possible. If that does not work, I have to break from my work, take my medicine and rest. Before I do that, I alternate with heating pads and warm baths (certain ointments work wonders). I always try to work ahead because sometimes, serious pain episodes are unpredictable. I know myself and if I fall behind, I’ll be stressed, which worsens the situation, so I always try to stay prepared.
What is your daily medication regimen and what medications do you take when you are in pain?
I do not take medication on a daily basis. The only things I take daily are vitamins. When I am in pain, the medications vary, depending on the level of pain I am in. If I catch the pain early, I will alternate between Tylenol 3 and Motrin 800. If it gets worse, I take the stronger meds, but I try every alternative first.
If you aren’t single and fabulous:), please tell us about your significant other. How did your relationship evolve taking into account your sickle cell? When did you tell him/her? Do you have kids?
Presently, I am single, but in the past, I would tell the guy when we discussed our childhood. This is only if I thought it was the time and the right person to know. Otherwise, I chose to keep my privacy. I was pregnant once, but miscarried. It was not a wise experience, but I have grown because of it.
Looking at the 14 year old version of yourself, what would you tell him or her if you could…?
Keep working hard no matter what everyone else is doing. Know that you are smart enough to accomplish anything. Guard your heart and don’t lose sight of your worth.
Is there anything else that you would want to tell other sickle cell warriors?
Sickle Cell is not something you should have to just deal with or survive. It is one aspect of your life, so treat it as such. Do not allow it to define you or your destiny. It is not your identity, so do not embody a disease, emerge from it and show others your success (and humility). Actress Marlee Matlin once said in regards to being deaf that, “The real handicap of deafness does not lie in the ears, it lies in the mind.” To paraphrase her: [stextbox id=”custom”]The real handicap of Sickle Cell does not lie in the blood, but in the mind. Do not allow anyone, including yourself, to handicap you. You are capable of doing whatever you work for; Sickle Cell is simply a part of that work. With God and wisdom, you’re set. Now start building our community and empowering other people with SCD. [/stextbox]We can make a strong network when everyone contributes something innovative and positive (like this website)!
That is such a great quote! You are truly an inspiration, and I look forward to everything you are going to do with your life. Wishing you much success and blessings Ashley. Keep doing you—you’re awesome!