Ashley Maxey’s journey through breast cancer began at age 3 when her grandmother passed away of heart disease due to radiation from breast cancer. It was a death that sparked a lifetime of involvement in the breast cancer world for Ashley. Not only did she volunteer for various organizations, including Susan G. Koman, but she chose a career as a radiation therapist as a small way to honor her grandmother.
Ashley herself had brushes with breast cancer. At just 17, while shaving her armpits, she noticed a lump. Immediately, her mother brought her to the doctor. Frequent imaging and a biopsy confirmed the lump was not cancerous, but it made certain that Ashley needed to be diligent about self checks and monitoring, especially given her family history. When, at just age 30, while breastfeeding her youngest child, she felt a shift in her breast tissue, she immediately called the doctor: “luckily my doctor was my age and really trusted me when I advocated for myself.” Scans would reveal invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. Ashely felt like she was “slapped in the face.”
To complicate the diagnosis, COVID restrictions meant Ashley went through a double mastectomy and chemotherapy alone, as her husband was only allowed to drop her off for the procedures. Already a military family who moved a lot, Ashley acknowledges how isolating that time in her life was. To cope, she relied on one close friend she made after moving, but mostly relied on herself saying, “I keep myself extremely busy. It helps keep my mind occupied from our true reality.”
In early 2021, Ashley began to feel pain in her rib. It would turn out to be her expander/implant that had strangely moved into her rib. It prompted a bone scan, which revealed breast cancer in her hip: “this is where God is the only explanation. I had NO pain in my hip whatsoever and had that implant not moved, no bone scan would have been done to catch it.” Though remission was never reached, Ashley’s stage four, metastatic breast cancer diagnosis has not slowed her down. Indeed, she is quick to note doctors have said her life span, though shortened, is still positive. She is responding well to treatment, which includes radiation on the hip and the removal of her ovaries/fallopian tubes.
In many ways, Ashley notes that living with MBC can still mean a string of great days, but eventually the cancer realities hit you in the face. This reality is no more felt than around the time of her scans. It prompts something she nicknames “scanxiety”- “no matter how good you are feeling, you get insane anxiety leading up to scans.” On those weeks, she relies heavily on her faith and the women’s group at the church for prayer and support. Besides that, she goes back to what got her through her initial diagnosis- staying busy and filling her plate to eat up the time waiting for the scan/results. Of special importance is her commute, which she, without fail, indulges in true crime podcasts to catapult her mind into another world. It’s the ticket to somewhat curing that pre-scan anxiety drive.
In all, Ashley feels thankful to be benefiting from the advancements in technology. It will allow her to continue to be there for her children, ages 10 months and 2 at the time of her diagnosis, for years to come. She continues to be a voice for women her age living with MBC, but more generally to all women about their breast health: “I need everyone to grasp that you need to understand and know your normal breast tissue through regulars self checks, in order to understand when shifts or lumps occur.” The Runway team echoes those sentiments- self checks save lives!