Ashley Jackson was at theater camp in the summer of 2014 when she began experiencing excruciating back pain. But she powered through it so as not to disappoint her instructors.
Thinking it was related to her scoliosis, her mother, Debbie Jackson, took her to an orthopedic doctor, but her X-rays were clear. Soon after, Ashley began losing her balance. Then her knees started buckling.
Mrs. Jackson said that it was God’s blessing the day her 16-year-old daughter woke up and was unable to move her legs. Doctors at Children’s Medical Center Dallas immediately performed spinal surgery and found a tumor constricting her spine, snaking up into her chest cavity and wrapping around some of her ribs. As soon as they removed the tumor, feeling returned to her legs.
Shortly after that, Mrs. Jackson received the news that the tumor was Ewing’s sarcoma, a primary bone cancer that accounts for 1 percent of all childhood cancers. It can start anywhere, but because it was in Ashley’s spine and caused the problems with her legs, doctors at Children’s were able to catch it early, before it had spread.
Aggressive chemotherapy and radiation kept her at Children’s for nine months. Living in Denison was a challenge for the single mom, so the pair spent five of those months living at the Ronald McDonald House, where they returned two weeks after Ashley’s last chemotherapy treatment in June. They were going there to donate her wheelchair and walker.
Ashley is looking forward to her senior year, but she will return to school with a new perspective on life.
She started a nonprofit called Ashley’s Hearts of Hope (on Facebook) to give hope to kids fighting cancer. “I want to let kids know they’re not alone.” The foundation makes possible Valentine bags, birthday gifts, anytime presents to brighten and cheer the patients in the cancer center.
“Children’s not only saved my daughter’s life,” Mrs. Jackson said, “they gave her a sense of value. She’s never lost herself through the treatment. In fact, she found herself. She’s blossomed. Her relationship with God has become stronger. She calls it her ‘gift year.’”
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