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Fox News
7 Feb 2024


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I was sworn in as an official member of a club I never wanted to join last October. I’m a 40-year-old wife and mother of a toddler.  I’ve been a journalist with Fox News for 15 years.  Now, I also belong to the cancer club.  

I had barely celebrated my birthday when I was told I had cancer.  The diagnosis metastatic appendiceal cancer

My reaction when I got the news was just what you’d expect.  Everything went blank as my oncologist started rattling off these very scientific terms, the treatment plan and long list of possible side effects from chemo. Appendix cancer? That’s a thing? This useless organ did this?   

MORE YOUNGER PEOPLE ARE RECEIVING CANCER DIAGNOSES, STUDY FINDS — ESPECIALLY THIS TYPE

As the diagnosis sunk in, along came the companion feelings of fear, despair, anger, even betrayal (how could my body do this to me?). The list still goes on. But let’s go back to how it all started.   

It was early June when I recall feeling some dull pains in my abdomen. It never once crossed my mind that it could be cancer.  It usually never does. That’s not uncommon, especially for someone as young as me.

Ashley with her husband and daughter

Ashley with her husband, Jay and daughter, Sage. (Ashley Papa)

I did a little Internet self-diagnosing and chalked it up to not eating the right foods or drinking enough water and carried on with life and our summer plans.   

But over the next two months, the pain slowly got worse.  I have known my body for 40 years.  I’ve known the pains of cramps, pulled muscles, broken bones, even emergency cesarean sections.   

This was different.  

FLORIDA DOCTOR REVEALS HIS OWN CANCER JOURNEY TO HELP OTHERS HANDLE THE EMOTIONS A DIAGNOSIS BRINGS

Still, I figured it was diet related, but decided to see my doctor and have HER confirm that.  Her first thought also was that the symptoms were probably related to my diet.  But she ordered a CT scan anyway.   

Now, I often think, if she hadn’t ordered that scan… Because the pain wasn’t that bad, I could’ve just kept on dealing with the symptoms the way I had all summer -- while the cancer continued to spread. 

Ashley with daughter

After another rare diagnosis and having to undergo emergency lung surgery during pregnancy, Ashley says she pulls a lot of her strength from her daughter, whom she calls her "angel baby."  (Ashley Papa)

The evening after the CT scan, I got a call from my doctor.  ‘That was really fast,’ I thought seeing her number on my caller ID.  She told me she wanted me to get to a gynecological oncologist as soon as possible.  It looks like ovarian cancer.  I was home alone with my daughter at the time.  I went numb.  It was not the call I would’ve ever expected.   

COLORECTAL CANCER IS NOW LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH AMONG YOUNG ADULTS WITH CANCER: NEW REPORT

There was a lot of fear and confusion between my husband and me that night.  We didn’t want to believe it was cancer.  But the next day, I sent my scan to Dr. Nicole Saphier, a trusted radiologist, colleague, and Fox News Medical contributor. She came close to confirming the cancer. But what kind was it, really? We were still not sure.  

There was a mass on the scan, but it was hard to see exactly where it was located. 

Ashley with daughter

After another rare diagnosis and having to undergo emergency lung surgery during pregnancy, Ashley says she pulls a lot of her strength from her daughter, who she calls her "angel" baby.  (Ashley Papa)

Within three days of that scan, I was in with an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK).  What followed was a month of tests, surgeries, scans and lots and lots of tears, until the official, and rare, diagnosis finally came.     

Just over two years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I had a complete lung collapse and ended up needing emergency lung surgery when I was six months pregnant.  

There are still lots of tears.  I often wonder how one body can produce so many tears.  And there are moments where I want to smash plates, but I know this doesn’t help anything.  I quickly try to pivot and get back to my life.  

It was then that I had been diagnosed with another very rare lung disease that affects women in the child-bearing years called Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM).  I just couldn’t fathom that I would be hit with not one extremely rare disease, but two…and in less than two years!  

CANCER CAUSES: THESE 10 HIDDEN CARCINOGENS CAN RAISE THE RISK, ACCORDING TO AN ONCOLOGY EXPERT

I’ve never had more than the flu in the past four decades.  How is this possible?  You’ve got a better chance at winning the Powerball! This isn’t fair!  

Maybe this is related to the lung disease, my husband and I questioned and hoped, but it wasn’t.     

Ashley with her daughter

Growing up on the ice and now being able to teach her daughter is what Ashley says brings her so much joy in the midst of treatment.  (Ashley Papa)

When they asked if I wanted to harvest any eggs before starting chemo, I said no.  I am already so blessed to have a healthy daughter after what I went through then.  Now I wanted to do everything to make sure I will be here for her.  I wanted to get started with the cancer treatment right away.   

I am now 7 rounds into my chemotherapy with 5 more rounds to go. What comes after, is to be determined. Likely, another surgery.   

Yes, chemo is brutal. But, so far, I have typically bounced back quickly. I feel fairly good in between infusions.  I think I am lucky in that regard.  

Ashley with her daughter

Growing up on the ice and now being able to teach her daughter is what Ashley says brings her so much joy in the midst of treatment.  (Ashley Papa)

Right now, I can ultimately live normally for about ten days between treatments.  And in those ten days of feeling fine, I live life as if I didn’t have cancer, which is vital for my mental and physical health.   

We make plans as a family and have little celebrations after I finish a chemo round.   

CANCER RISK COULD INCREASE WITH CONSUMPTION OF CERTAIN FOODS AND DRINKS, STUDY FINDS

Having those things to look forward to in the face of grueling treatment and this evil disease is crucial.  It’s like giving the middle finger to cancer, like saying to the disease, ‘you’re not going to stop me from living my life’.  Besides, what is the alternative?  

Well, otherwise, I’d be living from treatment to treatment, in a state of constant fear and dread.   

Ashley

While treatment takes priority now, Ashley says being a cancer patient is still just a small part of who she is and can’t wait to one day call herself a cancer conquerer. (Ashley Papa)

I believe there is a lot of truth behind the mind’s ability to overpower the body.   

I thank God every day—as soon as I wake up—that I am not in pain and often feel good, which enables me to continue to live life and chase around my very energetic toddler -- who is currently in a phase of not wanting to ever get dressed!   

Faith over fear is what I strive for. Of course, this is easier said than done and there are times my mind goes to the dark side.   

There are still lots of tears.  I often wonder how one body can produce so many tears.  And there are moments where I want to smash plates, but I know this doesn’t help anything.  I quickly try to pivot and get back to my life.  

Ashley with daughter

Yes, chemotherapy is brutal but after each round is over Ashley and her family try to have a little celebration.   (Ashley Papa)

I draw a lot of my strength from my miraculous daughter.  I look at her and realize that miracles are real -- she is proof that there can be beauty after something so traumatic.   

I am also very close to my cousin Kelsey. She is an inspiration and a source of strength. She not only beat a Stage 4 neuroblastoma at the age of three back in the mid-90s, but then went on to have a baby naturally, after doctors told her it wouldn’t be possible! A few years later, she beat breast cancer at the age of 30.   

The reality is, as overwhelming and life-altering as a cancer diagnosis is, it is only a small part of my life.  

Ashley-chemotherpay

While the chemotherapy is tough, Ashley is grateful to have minimal side effects and is able to bounce back to normal life after a few days.  (Ashley Papa)

Though treatment takes priority right now, I’ve lived 40 years without cancer.  I am first and foremost a child of God. I am a mother to a beautiful little girl, a wife, a daughter and sister, a journalist.   

I am a lover of the outdoors, skating, snowboarding, writing and music.  And even though I now add cancer patient to my list, I will continue to hope and pray every day for that glorious moment that I can add cancer conqueror to the list, too.      

Ashley is a Digital Editor for Foxnews.com.  Email her at ashley.papa@fox.com