Being your own advocate is a very personal matter for Ashlee Hunt.
Ashlee has no family history of breast cancer; she actually has no family history of cancer of any kind. “Too often, young women are brushed off by doctors because breast cancer is not as common in younger women or because they do not have any family history,” Ashlee said. “We need to be our own advocates and push for the proper scans and tests regardless of our age.”
Ashlee had recently relocated to Akron to begin a new job and to be closer to her fiancé Nathan. They had just booked a venue for their wedding the following summer. The diagnosis came as a shock to a young couple only beginning to plan their future.
They made the choice to move their nuptials up to a closer date and had a very small ceremony with family. Though the beginning of their marriage was perhaps not the fairy tale they had always dreamed of, Ashlee will immediately tell you Nathan was her knight in shining armor.
“Every morning Nathan would bring me breakfast, make my coffee, and make sure the dogs were taken care of. We were working for the same company at the time, so carpooling was already part of our routine, but Nathan would drop me off at the door in the morning and pick me up at the door at the end of the day. Then he would come home and make dinner so I had time to decompress and rest. I don’t know many 25-year-old men who would have been able to step up in such a major way.”
One year later, when Ashlee had completed treatment and was cancer-free, they reaffirmed their vows on their originally planned wedding date in front of family and friends.
“We decided this would be our “light at the end of the tunnel,” you could say—a way for us to celebrate what we had been through in the past year and reaffirm our vows in front of our friends and family. We wrote our own vows and it was incredible to see how our love had grown in the past year and how strong we were together. The wedding party wore pink ribbons, we had pink flowers, and we handed out pink bracelets as favors.”
The young couple moved back to Columbus and looked forward to starting the next chapter in their lives, establishing roots, and beginning their family. It was then that Ashlee found a very small second lump on her scar tissue. Though her oncologist and surgeon assured her that it was most likely just a change in tissue, Ashlee knew she had to become her own advocate and push for further testing. “Another thing I stress to women is to continue to pay attention to your body even after a double mastectomy,” she said. “Many people assume that if you have a double mastectomy that breast cancer will not come back. This is a misconception that we need to change and I always tell people to continue with their self-exams. I am so thankful that I continued to pay attention to my body and found the lump that I later learned was recurrence.”
Ashlee was 28 when she received the news that her breast cancer had returned. She was diagnosed as HER2+, which meant her cancer was affected by the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2—a protein that promotes the growth of cancer cells. The diagnosis was devastating.
“It was extremely difficult to already have to push off having kids for 5 years, but as we were getting ready to start the next chapter I was re-diagnosed, and it was honestly heartbreaking. We realized that the best thing for my future now meant I would never be able to carry my own child. That along with the stress of needing to find a surrogate for our future family is extremely hard to deal with.”
But Ashlee continued to persevere with Nathan by her side. They joined John Cena in a PSA for Susan G. Komen, and continued to involve themselves with the Race for the Cure and other local events. After 18 rounds of chemo and another surgery, we are thrilled to announce that Ashlee is cancer-free once again and will be participating in the 2016 Race for the Cure as an Honorary Race Chair.
Despite the physical, emotional, and financial stresses of being a young survivor, Ashlee is one of the most positive spirits we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. She and Nathan decided during her second battle that they would give themselves 5 minutes to just dance and be happy every Monday night before chemo. Their first video received such a positive response that she continued to post them every week for those following her fight. She firmly believes that choosing to be happy and stay positive every day has had a huge impact on not only on her own health and well-being, but also on those around her.
We know for sure that this optimistic spirit has had a huge impact on us, and we can’t wait to share a dance with her at the Race in May and personally congratulate her for beating cancer a second time.
Join Ashlee and the rest of our inspiring Honorary Race Chairs at the Race on Saturday, May 14. Register today and begin your fundraising.