Ashtyn loves to cheer, but in April 2018, she was wobbly and dizzy during practice. When she then started having frequent headaches and vomiting, it was cause for concern – and an appointment with the pediatrician.
“But meanwhile,” said her mom, Kiara, “Ashtyn had another episode at daycare and I thought, 'Why is this happening? Why is she vomiting so much?' So I called a friend, and she suggested we take her to an eye doctor.”
The eye doctor sent Ashtyn to the ER, where an MRI was performed.
“About an hour later they came in and said they’d found a mass," recounted Kiara. "My first thought was, 'Is this the end for my 5-year-old?' Our world was instantly flipped upside down. You never think it might be you one day. You never think in a million years it will be you.”
Days later, Ashtyn had a diagnosis of medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer. The oncologist immediately recommended St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the childhood cancer survival rate from 20% when it opened to more than 80% today.
Initially, Ashtyn’s mom, Brittney, wanted to pursue treatment locally.
“I thought staying close to home was the better idea,” she said, “but in my opinion now, that would have been a mistake because, although I have faith in our system there, St. Jude made the process an entirely different experience. Everything we needed has been here, and things we didn’t know we needed have been here. The program is well thought-out, and this terrible situation is less stressful on parents than it could be. You kind of forget you’re here for cancer treatment because life is made so normal.”
Kiara, too, is thankful they came to St. Jude. “I knew St. Jude specialized in cancer, and I knew that there would be kids just like Ashtyn here, so she wouldn’t feel different – she’d be more comfortable.”
Vivacious Ashtyn underwent a second brain surgery after arriving at St. Jude, as well as proton therapy and chemotherapy. She also received physical and occupational therapies and even started kindergarten through the St. Jude school program.
She has now finished treatment and returns to St. Jude regularly for checkups and scans.
Ashtyn “warms everyone’s heart,” said Kiara. She and Brittney describe her as full of energy and sass, and hope that she’ll grow up to touch other people’s lives, as St. Jude has touched theirs.