Carthage native Ashley Bilby was out walking her two pit bulls, Mortecai and Deacon, not too long ago. That may seem like a common everyday activity, but for Ashley, it was a very, beautiful day.

Carthage native Ashley Bilby was out walking her two pit bulls, Mortecai and Deacon, not too long ago. That may seem like a common everyday activity, but for Ashley, it was a very, beautiful day.

In November 2010, Ashley was diagnosed with breast cancer. She says “that's the day I became a survivor.” Family, friends, classmates and even strangers of Ashley's formed a supportive network called “Team Ashley.” And the team has been doing a lot of cheering lately.

Ashley said her life came to a screeching halt two years ago, and she took chemo from December 2010 through March 2011. She had a double-mastectomy in April 2011, and in May she was told the cancer had spread to her bones. She then underwent radiation, which was a six-week recovery.

“I hope no parent has to see their child go through this,” Ashley said, tearing with a grateful pride in her mom, Carol Lee.

By this time last year, Ashley had one tumor in her liver. By October 2011, she had four. From October 2011 to March 2012 Ashley was bed-ridden until she had a pain pump implanted. And in April 2012, three of the four tumors had resolved, and the bone cancer was still contained.

“We're excited,” Carol said. “The doctors are pleased. When I first heard about the pain pump I was scared but the doctors assured us we still have a lot of options, a long ways to go from here … The medication doesn't have to go through her liver, and it goes straight to her spine.”

When the Guardians of the Ribbon passed through Carthage Thursday and Friday last week, Ashley paid a visit to write her name and an encouraging message on the pink truck … Finding a blank space was hard to do.

“It's really awesome but at the same time – such reality,” Ashley said before tearing up at the sight of the truck covered with names.

“You see all those names, and it lets you know you can be a survivor,” Carol said. “All those people survived – so can Ashley. You need to see those survivors because you get caught up with your own world and it's easy to get down. Everyone here at work, church … just everyone has supported us. If you didn't have those people it would be a real struggle.”

Ashley, who is a 1998 Carthage High School graduate, agreed the community support has been overwhelming.

“These are people I haven't seen in 10 years,” Ashley said “When I heard about the response, I was blown away. They said, 'we can't let one of our own think she's alone.' It's such a true blessing.”

Tremendous support has helped Ashley through a rough road so far in her battle. After radiation treatment, Ashley had breast reconstructive surgery. Through all of the physically and mentally painful days, Ashley found herself not only frustrated with her treatments, but those treating her.

“I told them, 'it's amazing, after all the millions of dollars donated to this research, the best you can do is amputate my body piece by piece and give me a 50-year-old drug,'” Ashley said.

She found the same protocols in a different hospital and “interviewed,” her new oncologist. As of July 2011, Ashley has been pleased with her doctors on Team Ashley.

“I had done research and wanted to have conversations about my treatment,” she said. “A white coat does not make you God – I had to find my own voice, and that's the one thing cancer has given me. I lost my breasts, but I found my voice. And I really want to help other young women find their voice. – Push our doctors to do better.”

Sean Bilby and Ashley (Lee) were wed in a private ceremony in December 2010. At the time, she was on chemo, and not feeling well. She described those days as mentally painful because she didn't want her new husband to see her. Now, the couple are planning another wedding, this time, a happier one.

“I want to feel like a happy, healthy bride,” Ashley said. “I want an awesome, pain-free ceremony for all our family, and friends who have become family.”

Ashley is also planning on using her experiences to help others.

“As a social worker in health care, I thought I was good, but once I became the patient I had to deal with it,” Ashley said. “I want to help young women advocate for themselves to their doctors. It is a battle … with the doctors too.”
Currently, Ashley makes the trip to Kansas City every three months for a scanning process. Carol said they deal with the news as it comes.

“Every three months your world revolves around those answers,” Carol said.

Ashley's spirits are high these days. Since the pain pump, she has been enjoying the sunshine.

“Being able to walk around, feel the sun and the wind does such a wonderful thing for my mind,” Ashley said. “I really believe in positive affirmation and meditation … I tell myself, 'my body is healing, my body is healing.'

Ashley participates in the Kansas City chapter of the Young Cancer Survivors group, which she says is a great organization but home is where the heart is.

“Kansas City has nothing compared to home,” Ashley said. “This amazing little town can step it up, and I'm extremely grateful for all of it.”

To follow Ashley's progress, visit Viewers are encouraged, but must be aware that the blog is true and written by a cancer survivor. Cancer survivors specially are welcome, Ashley said, to read and write their own experiences.

“You're angry, but you have a right to be – you just don't want to get stuck there,” Ashley said of graphic blog posts. “It's needed to get it out … It's real.”