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Kicking balls, raising money and 'saving boobies'
Community shows support woman with breast cancer with kickball fundraiser in Gainesville
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Ashley Williams, 32, speaks Tuesday at her Gainesville home about her journey after being diagnosed June 26 with breast cancer. She is undergoing chemotherapy treatment at Longstreet Cancer Center in Gainesville. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Support Ashley Williams
To help pay for Ashley Williams’ rising medical expenses, a website has been set up in her name. Visit www.crowdrise.com/supportashleysbattle to help.

On June 26, Ashley Williams’ life changed.

The then 31-year-old petite woman sat in her doctor’s office with her aunt and mother by her side and heard the news most dread. She had Stage 2B breast cancer.

Several questions ran through Williams’ head such as “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?

No answers came.

“My uncle told me ‘It was like time stopped right there,’” Williams said. “And it never moved from June 26.”

But time did move. And just like the saying “When it rains, it pours,” the sky opened up and drenched Williams’ and her family.

Less than two months later, Williams and her mother, Judith, lost their jobs at Smart Start Day School off Dorsey Street in Gainesville.

Williams once again asked “Why?”

But still no answers came.

Now, she and her mother found themselves unemployed and without health insurance for Williams’ battle against breast cancer. Fortunately, a charity fund at the Longstreet Clinic where Williams’ receives her chemotherapy treatments helps pay for those costs. Extra doctor’s expenses outside of the clinic are paid  for by Williams and her family members.

Williams has handled these two major blows to her life through prayer and with her family’s aid.

“If I didn’t have that, I would not be doing as good as I am,” the soft-spoken woman said.

Devastating diagnosis

In January, Williams life seemed to be going as planned. The 2002 Gainesville High School graduate had been working full time for nine years as a Georgia pre-Kindergarten teacher. She was also enrolled at Brenau University to earn her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education with the ultimate goal of opening her own daycare center.

Then Williams met with her obstetrician-gynecologist for her annual exam. Her doctor discovered a knot on her left breast near her armpit.

“She thought it was just a fibroid knot,” Williams said. “We thought nothing of it at the time because it was small. She said not to worry about it.”

During the next few months, the mass increased in size, causing concern among Williams family but not her.

“I thought, ‘No. It’s nothing,” Williams said.

She was wrong. Her family members prodded her to see the doctor. She finally relented.

After seeing the doctor, Williams went to Longstreet Clinic for a mammogram and ultrasound, which came back abnormal. From there, she was shuttled to a surgeon, Dr. Pierpont Brown, for a biopsy on June 24.

The medical staff told Williams the results would take a week. Two days later, the Gainesville native was called to the doctor’s office.

“I was wondering why they were calling me early,” she said. “My heart started beating fast and I started getting nervous.”

When she arrived the surgeon’s office, she learned her tumor was malignant.

Williams was now among the ranks of women suffering from the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. About 1 in 8 women in the United States develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime, according to the American Cancer website (www.cancer.org). Of the women diagnosed, about 40,290 women will die from breast cancer, the website said.

Williams plans to be a survivor and not a statistic, and she came to that realization very recently. It’s a vision her immediate family shares.

Family and community support

After learning of her diagnosis, Williams’ aunts and uncles (her mother’s two brothers and three sisters) banded together to help raise money and awareness for their niece, who is an only child.

The siblings organized a “Kick Out Cancer” kickball fundraiser for Williams on Oct. 11 at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hall County at 1 Positive Place in Gainesville.  The event coincided with national Breast Cancer Awareness month, which is in October.

Williams best friend Cassandra Rucker came up with the slogan: “Kicking balls to save boobies kickball fundraiser.”

“It took me about 10 minutes to come up with it,” Rucker said. “It’s about breast cancer awareness and we are raising money by playing kickball.”

Williams explained her relatives devised the kickball tournament during a family dinner. Each family mentioned how fun kickball was when they were younger. Therefore, the discussion evolved into a fundraiser for Williams.

More than 400 people attended, sporting brightly colored team shirts. At least 18 teams registered to play with at least 12 people per team.

“Some even have 20 people on a team,” Williams’ aunt Diane Lawrence said.

Each team’s name was put in a bucket and the teams played each other “for fun.” The laughter and community spirit was uplifting.

“It was fun to see everybody running and playing and having a good time,” Williams said.

The massive crowd also touched Ann Morrow-Sneed, who Williams’ describes as a mentor.

“It was so wonderful to see that kind of turnout,” Morrow-Sneed said as she choked out the words. “My first thought was I was so proud of my hometown and how everybody came out for her.”

Another proud moment came when the family counted the money raised — $2,500.

But that’s not what touched Williams’ heart, it was the outpouring of love and support.

“It was hard to hold back tears,” Williams said as she smiled with tears filling her eyes. “But once we released the pink balloons, I cried.”

Williams said at that moment she realized she has a community that loves and supports her. And that moment came at just the right time.

Bad and good days

A week earlier, Williams experienced one of the worst weeks of her life since being diagnosed.

On Oct. 5, Williams had one of her “crying days.” It happened three days after her chemotherapy treatment, which are scheduled for every Friday for seven more weeks. She is more than halfway through her 16 total treatments.

“I felt horrible,” she said. “I did not want to get out of bed.”

Luckily, her mother and grandmother who share their home with Williams were there to encourage her.

“My mom said ‘Come on. Get up out of bed and come in (the living room) with us,’” Williams said.

She obeyed, but her struggles affected her loved ones.

“Last week was hard,” Williams’ mother Judith said as she rested on the armchair next to her daughter. “It was hard to see her not doing nothing.”

But Williams, her family and friends know she has keep her spirits up. By Tuesday afternoon, she was recuperating. Then the nurses at Longstreet decorated her therapy suite with pink decorations to mark her 32nd birthday Oct. 9.

Williams was starting to feel like normal. Her family then treated her with a dinner out, because her chemo treatment was suspended since her white count was low.

Two days later, Williams was awed by the kickball turnout. She said she turned the corner regarding her diagnosis and prognosis, noting she had more support than most, and others had a harder battle than she.

“(My family and community) were going to push me to keep fighting,” she said as she sat in her living room wearing a shirt stating ‘Family gives me strength. Faith gives me hope.’ “And you have to pull through for your family, friends and yourself.”

One of the women helping Williams pull through is Morrow-Sneed, an 11-year breast cancer survivor.

Morrow-Sneed connected with Williams through her own sister, who knew Williams’ mother. Morrow-Sneed provided Williams with the knowledge about what would happen to her body once she underwent chemo, including when her hair would fall out.

“I told her exactly what’s going to happen,” Morrow-Sneed said.

The 51-year-old Snellville woman also stood as a symbol as someone who beat cancer. And she was not alone. Morrow-Sneed’s mother and middle sister are breast cancer survivors, too. She shared this information with Williams and emphasized the importance of a positive attitude.

“Having a positive attitude is half the battle,” she said

Williams’ other warriors in her own cancer battle are her aunts and uncles.

“My uncle Greg stops by every day,” she said, shortly before he popped his head into the living room to wave.

“He says ‘You know I’m not playing that pity-party stuff,’” Williams said as laughter bubbled out of her petite frame.

So, Williams keeps that in mind and smiles at the end of each day, whether it’s good or bad.

“When you see how much love and support you have, you can help to have a smile on your face,” she said.

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