Ashley Ryan

2021 Model Survivor

Ashley Ryan

On January 15th, 2020 I found my lump. I had just returned from a two-week vacation with my family to Grand Cayman. I knew something wasn’t right because I had been in a swimsuit every day for the last two weeks all day every day, and I hadn’t noticed a thing. I called my OB the next day explaining the lump I had found. With the breast cancer history in my family (three aunts on my dad’s side of the family, and one aunt on my mom’s side of the family) she immediately referred me to the KU Cancer Center.

My appointment was over a week away, so I called Dr. Quinn (my plastic surgeon who did my breast augmentation a year prior), and he was able to see me sooner. He thought it was a benign fibroadenoma, but he wanted me to get imaging to verify. I had a mammogram and ultrasound a couple days later (now a week after I found the lump), and the imaging showed two masses. The radiologist believed they were benign, but thought I should have a biopsy to confirm. I told her I had an appointment scheduled at KU in a couple days, and I would call to schedule a biopsy if they didn’t proceed with the biopsy at KU.

A few days later I met with the PA and another radiologist for a second ultrasound at KU. The radiologist came in and told me he thought the masses were benign, and to come back in six months for a follow up and another ultrasound. I didn’t feel right waiting 6 months. I needed confirmation the lump was nothing to be concerned about. I wanted to have the biopsy just to be sure, and to put my anxiety to rest. I happened to run into the PA in the hallway as I was walking out with my brother, and she could tell I was upset. I told her I wanted to proceed with the biopsy. She scheduled the biopsy for a few days later (two weeks after I found the lump).

The biopsy was a quick and painless procedure. They told me I would receive the results the following week. The next morning about 11 am I was at the office, and I saw KU was calling. My heart sunk. Before I could respond the PA proceeded by stating, “Do you have a minute? The biopsy results came back, and it was cancerous. You have invasive ductal carcinoma.” I don’t remember much from that phone call, but I won’t ever forget it. I will never forget that I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 30 years old... five days before my 31st birthday.

I won’t ever forget walking quickly from my desk and trying to find an office to take a phone call that I knew was not good news. I won’t ever forget walking back to my desk crying and no one in the office saying anything as I packed up everything and walked out because they knew something wrong. I won’t ever forget having to FaceTime my parents telling them I had cancer while they were in Grand Cayman. I won’t ever forget driving home and not knowing what to do next after being told I had cancer. I won’t ever forget that day.

Thankfully, I trusted my intuition and I caught the tumor early. I was diagnosed with early stage 2. The tumor had not metastasized, spread to my cells, or my lymph nodes. The MRI confirmed it was in fact just one tumor measuring 3.1 cm. I cannot imagine where I would have been six months later if I would have waited to follow up. Over the next five months, I went through IVF, eight chemo treatments, scans, and way too many shots in my stomach to count.

My first chemo treatment was on March 2nd, and as most people know just a couple weeks later COVID hit. During my second treatment I was only allowed one visitor, and then for my remaining treatments I was not allowed any visitors. This was especially difficult because I was cold capping. My dad got the nickname the “cold cap king” and I was no longer able to bring him with me to my treatments to help me cold cap in order to preserve my hair. However, he taught me how to put the caps on my head using a wall and all my strength (even being hooked up to an IV getting chemo) and put the caps on.

Although I despised COVID at the time because I had to do all my treatments and doctor’s appointments alone, it was also a blessing in disguise. I was able to work from home and keep healthy while my immune system was compromised. I did not have to worry about getting up and going to the office each day, or being around friends and family when I did not feel or look my best. And the best thing - I was able to spend most of my summer at the Lake of the Ozarks at our lake house with my family, some of our best friends, and my goddaughter.

I had the best support system to get me through some of my hardest days. In August I underwent a bilateral mastectomy. Although it was not an easy decision as a single 31-year-old, I wanted to reduce my chances of a reoccurrence in the future. I received the best news when my surgeon, Dr. McCroskey, told me there was no evidence of cancer in any of the surrounding tissue or lymph nodes. I could finally say I was cancer free!

The journey continued over the next several months with weekly appointments to Dr. Quinn’s for fills, and follow up appointments with my oncologist, Dr. Nye. I finally ended my treatment and surgery journey when I had my reconstruction in November 2020. My battle with breast cancer taught me several things. It taught me that cancer does not discriminate – it does not matter how old you are or what stage of life you are in – it will hit you like a tornado. Cancer puts everything into perspective. The little things you thought were important don’t matter anymore, and you make time for and put more effort into the things that truly matter. Although cliché, it taught me to live each day to the fullest because life is too short. Most importantly though, it taught me that you have to be your own advocate and trust your intuition.