Some women attend support groups. Some reach out to their families. Ashley Williams reached for her journal.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of last year,” Williams said. “I found out when I was 31. I started doing chemo and all that, and people would say, ‘You’re a little young to have breast cancer.’ But it doesn’t pick an age.”
Williams didn’t have any of the typical signs that led to her diagnosis. It was a small lump felt five months before her diagnosis that first raised questions.
“In January 2015, I went for my yearly, and I hadn’t noticed it,” she said. “During the breast exam, my doctor felt a little knot, but we just thought it was at most a fibroid. It continued to grow, and that’s when I went back for another opinion.”
She was referred to The Longstreet Clinic for a mammogram and ultrasound. It came back negative. But a final biopsy confirmed it was cancer.
Williams praised her doctor, Dr. Pierpont “Pepper” Brown with Northeast Georgia Physicians Group, for giving her the confidence she could beat the cancer.
“He made me feel like I could do it,” she said. “When he first told me, I was looking around at my family like, ‘Is Ashton Kutcher going to jump out?’ But he was sincere, and he was great.”
Williams didn’t feel that confidence and assurance through her whole treatment, however. Stress with work and the disease itself left her feeling confused, even angry.
“I was teaching, going to school at Brenau University for my bachelor’s,” she said. “Everything in my life was working good for me. When I found out, everything changed. I got to a point when I wanted to throw in the towel.”
Years before, Williams had been given a journal by some of the women at her church. She called it her prayer book.
While she was struggling with treatment, she turned to some of the other patients at the Longstreet Cancer Center and resources online to find out how others handled the stress.
“I thought, “Well, if I’m journaling about my day-to-day activities, why don’t I journal about what I’m going through with cancer?’” she said. “The nurses were great at the cancer center, and they thought it was the greatest thing.”
Her journal entries covered everything from the treatment itself and how it made her feel physically, to how she felt emotionally. It was “an every night thing,” she said, and for months she filled hundreds of pages.
“Every day that I felt bad, that I just wanted to lash out, I’d just do that in my journal,” she said. “Some of it was anger. Some of it was frustration. I had those moments, but I would always put it down on paper.”
Williams said while she has a great family who she relied on during that time, she didn’t have people to talk to per se. None of her friends or family had experienced cancer firsthand.
So she wrote. She kept up the habit through 16 rounds of chemo, 33 rounds of radiation, three surgeries and one blood transfusion.
Today, she operates her own day care, Creative Learners Child Development Center at 711 Dorsey St. in Gainesville, which she created while undergoing treatment.
She’s been cancer-free since Dec. 23, 2015, what she called “the best Christmas present ever.” But she still writes in her journal.
On the front of her journal — the same one she used during her treatment — are the words, “But without faith, it is impossible to please him.”
The Bible verse, Hebrews 11:6, resonates with Williams today.
“I can honestly say what I went through isn’t even half of what I see other people going through,” she said. “So I’m just grateful.”