We want to start by thanking everyone who contributed to our last GoFundMe campaign for Ashley. Ashley was sincerely touched by every single person's donation and could never thank everyone enough for the support they showed her. Everyone's generosity allowed her to focus on her health without worrying about finances. In addition to dealing with the physical and emotional challenges related to her ongoing battle with cancer, we were also faced with putting to sleep our 17-year-old family dog, Dylan, in June. Then again in September, her 1-year-old cat, Leo, got sick and passed away. 2018 has been a rough year and we'd like to lift any financial worries from her shoulders.
Ashley's battle from the beginning:
In June 2017, Ashley was diagnosed with cancer on her vocal cords. She had 29 treatments of radiation, concluding in August. The cancer returned 6 months later in February and her surgeon told her she would need a total laryngectomy (removal of the voicebox and separating the airway from the throat). This news was pretty devastating since it is a life-changing surgery. After seeking 3 additional opinions at other top hospitals, she chose to have a partial laryngectomy (removal of part of the voicebox) in Cleveland.
Ashley had surgery on March 29th and spent 10 days in the hospital. The surgical pathology report showed that instead of the squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) she was originally diagnosed with, she actually had high-grade mucoepidermoid carcinoma (MEC), which explained why radiation alone didn't eliminate the cancer completely. MEC is very rare, particularly in the voicebox. She had a temporary tracheostomy (tube in the neck to breathe), which was removed about 1 month later. In May, she had some complications that sent her to the ER twice, back into the OR, leading to 10 more days in the hospital. After months of tube feeding and practicing swallowing exercises to learn to protect her airway when swallowing, finally by the end of June Ashley was able to start eating by mouth, and on July 2nd her feeding tube was removed. Things were looking up!
At Ashley's 4 month post-op follow-up appointment on August 6th, a growth was seen in her throat that called for a biopsy. It was confirmed that the cancer was back and this time she would need a total laryngectomy. The total laryngectomy separates the airway from the esophagus, so you no longer breathe through your nose and mouth, but through a permanent hole in your neck called a stoma. Ashley had this surgery on September 10th and spent a week in the hospital. During the surgery, she had a TEP (tracheoesophageal voice prosthesis) placed. A TEP is a small one-way valve placed connecting the esophagus to the trachea that allows air into the esophagus and up through the mouth so Ashley can talk, but stays closed when she eats so food and liquids don't pass through into the trachea. She also needed a free flap reconstruction procedure, in which the surgeon took tissue and a blood vessel from her forearm to rebuild her esophagus. A skin graft was taken from her thigh to cover the wound on her forearm. Since Ashley had radiation last year, the reconstructive surgeon is waiting until October 12th to let her attempt the swallow test (to make sure there are no leaks) and to try talking. We're hoping both of these go smoothly.
After discussing the surgical pathology results, Ashley's doctors are now recommending that she receive chemo and radiation treatments. Her cancer was super aggressive and invasive, and even though chemo and radiation aren't completely proven to work for MEC, they want to fight it as best as they can to prevent it from coming back. Chemo and radiation have a better chance at fighting stray microscopic cancer cells that may have lingered after surgery than at eliminating visible tumors. Ashley will start 6 weeks of chemo and radiation in Cleveland on October 22nd.
Ashley used up her sick days last year to recover from radiation and for doctor's appointments leading up to her surgery in March, leaving her no paid time off to take April-June. While she earned more sick days this school year, she has already used them up and will be going unpaid into the beginning of January. Hopefully Ashley will be able to stay at the Hope Lodge in Cleveland during her treatments, which is provided for free by the American Cancer Society. She's currently on the waiting list.
Please don't feel obligated to donate, but even small donations are helpful and appreciated :-) If you'd like to donate outside of this website, please send me (Kristen) an email by clicking on my name on the right side of this page. Thank you all so much. Let's help Ashley kick this cancer for good- third time's the charm!
- Kellie Baxa
- David Kaufman
- Terri Will
- Mario Venneri
- Paul Pitaro