Ashley’s Breast Cancer Journey

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Ashley’s Breast Cancer Journey

Since ringing the bell that signified the end of her treatment for breast cancer, Ashley Dean has become an evangelist of sorts for mammograms. Whether she is interacting with people in her hometown of Hobart or on Facebook, she reminds them of the importance of annual screenings.

“Moms, daughters, grandmas, sisters, aunts — get your mammograms every year. Make it a date if you want — go get your mammograms together then go have lunch and get your nails done,” she said. “Early detection saves lives. If I had waited a year before I got my mammogram, I wouldn’t be here today telling you this story.”

Ashley’s battle against breast cancer began when she found a lump in her left breast while she was showering. She was 34 years old, younger than the recommended age to begin annual mammograms. Her doctor sent her to the OU Health Breast Health Network, and in April 2020, after undergoing a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, she received her official diagnosis. Soon after, she underwent a double mastectomy and began chemotherapy and radiation treatments at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center under the care of Juan Claros-Sortos, M.D.

Ashley has no history of breast cancer in her family and was stunned to receive the news. Her thoughts immediately went to her four children — a 19-year-old son, 14-year-old twin daughters and a 4-year-old daughter. “My first thoughts after receiving that phone call were, ‘Am I going to die?’ ‘What about my kids?’”

Ashley was scared to begin treatments, and because the COVID-19 pandemic had just begun, she couldn’t bring anyone with her to appointments. But Stephenson Cancer Center healthcare professionals and staff made her feel safe and at home.

“It’s very important that you feel comfortable with the people who are treating you; you need to feel like they actually are about you,” Ashley said. “Everyone was so wonderful to me, from the people at the front desk to all the nurses and doctors. Cancer treatment is mentally and physically hard. I had to force myself to drive two hours to get there, so it was important that I feel comfortable with everyone there. Otherwise, I wouldn’t want to keep coming back.”

Ashley fell into a routine during her treatments and began to understand the importance of living her life fully on the days she felt good. After each treatment, she felt sick for several days and stayed in bed. Then she would get a week’s reprieve before the next treatment.

“I learned during chemo that I needed to enjoy the moments when I felt good and not worry about the next week when I would be sick again,” she said. “If my daughter wanted to go outside and play, but I was worried about something, I wouldn’t enjoy that time with her. That changed my life because I used to worry, worry, worry all the time. Now I’m like, ‘Let’s love our people today.’”

Ashley took a similar approach when she lost her hair. “I had long, blond hair and I didn’t recognize myself when I first lost it,” she said. “I finally realized that it would grow back and that it doesn’t make me who I am. If I looked in the mirror and said, ‘I look horrible,’ then I felt bad about myself all the time. I learned to look in the mirror and say, ‘I love myself’ and that I’m going to do the best I can. My husband also helped me a lot. When all I wanted to do was lay in the dark and rest, he would say, ‘This is not forever; it’s only for right now. That got me through.”

Ashley also shares her insight with women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Some are afraid to start treatment because they’ve heard about the side effects of chemotherapy. Yes, it’s difficult, she said, but it’s survivable and it saves lives. Other women have fears about losing their breasts in a mastectomy. Ashley is quick to share her story that a mastectomy was part of her life-saving treatment, and that reconstructive surgery returned her pre-surgery appearance.

Because she was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age, doctors have encouraged her talk to her daughters when appropriate about the importance of their own screening. Ashley is more than happy to do that.

“My family is everything to me. I do everything with my kids,” she said. “Because of Stephenson Cancer Center, I can continue doing that.”

To schedule an appointment call (405) 271-1112, or view OU Health mammography services.

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