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Women rally during nieces breast cancer treatment
Sophia Hunter talks about how she reacted when she found out that her niece Ashley Williams had breast cancer. Hunter started reading about the disease, contacting friends in the medical field and researching foods that had a reputation of helping fight cancer. - photo by Erin O. Smith


When Ashley Williams discovered she had breast cancer in June 2015, her family helped her get through it. To them, there was no other way.

For Williams’ aunts, Sophia Hunter and Diane Lawrence, it was especially important to help their niece since she is like a daughter to them. And Hunter and Lawrence, who are twins, were there with Williams from the beginning to the end.

Lawrence went with Williams when she had the biopsy and was there when she received the news the lump was, in fact, cancer. She remembers leaving the meeting to go get Williams’ mother, who was in the waiting room.

“I said, ‘Oh my God,’ yeah, I couldn’t believe it,” Lawrence said. “It was real devastating.”

Hunter was at work, helping to clean a dentist office, when she received the call.

“And of course, like anybody, there was the initial shock. I cried,” Hunter said.

First, the sisters with the whole family came together and looked to God.

“I was hurt, but I did not question God,” Hunter said. “We can question all day long, and it’s not going to change anything.”

Instead of questioning why, both sisters focused on their faith and family.

“It’s hard, but the weaker I sometimes feel, the more I pick up the Bible, the more I read, the more I pray. And everything that I pray for, it’s right here,” Hunter said.

Lawrence knew she had to set an example.

“Somebody had to keep the faith because a lot of times Ashley, she didn’t have it,” Lawrence said. “I just told her she’s just got to fight through it.”

Second, the sisters began a plan of action for Williams.

Hunter started educating herself on a disease. She was not going to take the diagnosis lying down.

“I don’t like defeat in no way, I don’t,” Hunter said, describing herself as a strong member in her family.

Therefore, she contacted friends who worked with cancer patients. She heard about juicing and bought a juicer.

Next, she researched foods with a reputation of helping to fight cancer.

Lawrence, in the meantime, accompanied her niece to every appointment and treatment. It included 16 rounds of chemo, a blood transfusion and radiation.

Lawrence said it was tough to watch at times, especially at the end when Williams wasn’t able to have chemotherapy because her blood cell counts were so low. That’s when the family’s resolve was so important to see and feel.

“Family support is everything when you’re going through that. And I think that ... faith and encouragement, I think that’s what really got her through,” Lawrence said.

During treatments is where Lawrence saw the power of her own family.

“The sad part about it is when nobody doesn’t have any family members up there to sit with them,” she said.

Williams always had at least one person — if not more — with her.

“She (Williams) felt bad,” Hunter said. “She had too many people. She never went by herself.”

But supplying their niece with healthy food and accompanying her to each appointment was only the beginning.

Two months after her diagnosis, Williams and her mother, Judith, lost their jobs at Smart Start Day School off Dorsey Street in Gainesville.

“We came together as a family to make sure their bills were paid and we had to make sure she had everything she needed,” Hunter said. “But we needed to make sure she had an uplifted spirit, too.”

Then last October, the Williams family organized a kickball tournament called “Kick Out Cancer” to help pay for the young woman’s medical bills.

It succeeded. Hundreds of people participated in the tournament, which raised $2,500.

The money exceeded expectations, allowing Williams to compile gift bags for other cancer patients. The bags contained items Williams found useful during her treatment such as water, protein shakes, a journal and a Bible.

Based on its success, a second kickball tournament is planned for this month. It’s expected to grow to a two-day event.

Hunter pointed out Williams’ battle with cancer gave the community a single purpose that day. It was a silver lining to the hardship their family had faced.

“With everything you go through in life, there’s always a positive,” Hunter said. “Family is so important, and it is, but life is so important. You can be here today and gone tomorrow.”

Fortunately, Williams is still here. She has been cancer free since Dec. 23, 2015.

Her ordeal has had ripple effects within her own family. Lawrence said one of the biggest lessons she learned was to expect the unexpected. Hunter said the family learned the value of love.

“You’re going to go to bed and you’re going to wake up tomorrow, but it might not be on this side,” Hunter said. “It’s so petty why people argue, why people don’t speak, why people don’t get along. But with Ashley going through this it has really taught us the meaning of family and the meaning of unconditional love.”

For Williams, though, she has come through the battle with a fighting spirit. She continued to attend college and worked to open her own business, Creative Learners Child Development Center at the site of her former job on Dorsey Street. She accomplished it all while undergoing cancer treatments.

Her resolve left her aunts astounded.

“I’m proud of her. She’s just got that will in her, she does,” Lawrence said.