Ashley Wassel Still

In April of 2020, after nearly two years of discomfort and several misdiagnoses, Ashley Wassel Still was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. After working with doctors in Athens, she underwent chemotherapy and radiation leading up to her successful surgery to remove the tumor in July of 2020.  During the surgery she was also given an ileostomy.  Chemotherapy treatments continued until late that December when her tests came back negative and she was declared to be in remission.  


Eager to return to work after a long hiatus for treatment Ashley explored her limited options while attempting to navigate the job market as an immunocompromised individual nearly a year into the global pandemic caused by COVID-19.  She ultimately landed on joining the girl’s varsity soccer coaching staff at her alma mater, Clarke Central, in Athens, GA.  In her first season as an assistant coach she helped to guide the team to their first playoff appearance since she was a player nearly a decade prior while also becoming the school’s all-time leading goalscorer.  During her second season on the coaching staff she was nominated for the Positive Athlete award for the East Atlanta Region.  Awarded annually to athletes and coaches “who have overcome difficult circumstances, given back to their schools and communities, or just have an infectious positive attitude” Ashley not only won the regional award, but also will be presented with the state-level award for Girls’ Coach on June 6th, 2022, during a ceremony at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, GA.  https://positiveathlete.org/states/georgia/  Coaching also offered an opportunity to rehabilitate and get her fitness back on the right track.  The head coach, Chris Hulse, was impressed by her playing abilities and reached out to the head women’s soccer coach at Georgia Military College.  After a one-day tryout Ashley earned a soccer scholarship and is currently maintaining above a B average. She plans to transfer to Piedmont University to continue her path toward degrees in Kinesiology and Sports Management as well as make the move from the JUCO ranks on the soccer pitch to Division-III.  As a full-time student athlete Ashley is currently working part-time at Hendershot’s coffee shop and bartending at Sister Louisa's Church bar in Athens, GA.



MD Anderson - Houston, TX


Nearly two years had passed since the original diagnosis and it was time to meet with the surgeon to discuss the next steps including a potential reversal of the ileostomy.  While the scans were negative her surgeon had a “feeling” that something was wrong.  Being a local doctor with limited resources he referred her to a team of specialists at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.


Located in Houston, Texas, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is the largest cancer center in the U.S. and according to Newsweek, MD Anderson Cancer Center is considered the best hospital in the world for oncology and related cancer treatment.  She is not just in good hands, she is in the best hands.


On April, 20th, 2022 Ashley and her husband, Wes, traveled to Houston for admissions and initial testing.  During this visit a scope was also performed.  The scope revealed a large, dense mass near her original cancerous area.  The surgeon at MD Anderson was unsure of the makeup of the mass at this time, but speculated fibrosis, cancer, or a combination of the two.  He subsequently scheduled a biopsy of the mass on May 4th. 


During the initial visit to MD Anderson Ashley met the entire team: surgeon, geneticist, radiologist, and oncologist.  The oncologist saw the results of the scope and seemed very certain that the biopsy would reveal cancer, but he had an unusually positive vibe about him. It was at that point that we learned of MD Anderson’s doctor Jim Allison.  James "Jim" Allison, Ph. D., is chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy platform at MD Anderson.  He was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for launching an effective new way to attack cancer by treating the immune system rather than the tumor.  The oncologist revealed that Ashley was missing two proteins and had other genetic markers that made her eligible not only for immunotherapy but also a trial vaccine that in conjunction with the immunotherapy is showing amazing results.  The immunotherapy has shown to be both more effective than chemotherapy and should be less damaging to her body.


https://www.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/nobel-prize-winning-researcher-jim-allison-on--the-future-of-immunotherapy-for-cancer-treatment.h00-159307779.html 


Diagnosis and Treatment


On Monday, May 9th, Ashley was informed that her colorectal cancer has officially returned.


Things are moving quickly.  We expect to hear from the oncologist soon to determine the next steps regarding treatment, but there are a few steps that are certain, including Immunotherapy & Trial Vaccine, Radiation, and Surgery.



Admissions and Testing: (COMPLETED) $1,100.

Biopsy: (COMPLETED) $1,700.

Immunotherapy & Trial Vaccine: each treatment and testing visit is every 3 weeks for 18 months (~26 appointments).  Whereas Ashley could receive the immunotherapy in Athens, the vaccine is not currently approved by the FDA and must be given at MD Anderson in Houston, TX.  A nearby hotel offers a complimentary shuttle to MD Anderson.  Each appointment will include: round trip drive from Athens, GA to Atlanta, GA, airport parking, round trip flight ATL - HOU, round trip transportation to hotel, and one-night hotel stay for… 26 trips to Houston.  We estimate that the Immunotherapy & Trial Vaccine visits will cost: $22,500 - $27,500.

Radiation: this is expected to be a one-time trip to Houston for roughly 3 weeks.  Treatment will be administered twice-a-day for two and a half weeks. This is an outpatient procedure, so lodging is required for the duration of the treatment. This will include: round trip flight ATL - HOU, round trip transportation to hotel, 3 weeks hotel stay, and at least 3 weeks of missed work.  We estimate that the Radiation trip will cost: $6,000 - $8,000.

Surgery: we currently do not know what to expect with this visit.  We are guesstimating that this would be a week-long visit for travel and inpatient procedure & recovery.  We anticipate that this visit will include: round trip flight ATL - HOU, round trip transportation to hotel, two nights of lodging, and missed work.  We estimate that the Surgery visit will cost: $2,000 - $3,000.



Conclusion 


Cancer is an enemy that has touched the lives of so many.  Life was so much simpler just weeks ago when it was a defeated foe, something in Ashley’s past.  Now though, it is back, and honestly the financial implications are overwhelming.  We need help.  We know that these are difficult times for all of us, and the prognosis is positive if we are able to bring every measure available to Ashley to bear against this disease.  It is no small thing to ask to give to someone else’s fight.  Ashley has repeatedly shown her lifelong dedication to her teams and her community through her connections with her friends, her school, and her own determination to support young women who likewise play soccer.  To say that it is difficult to ask for help is an understatement, but there is simply no way that what is needed is possible at this time without the support of friends, family, and our community.  We humbly ask that you consider a contribution to help alleviate the incredibly high cost of this fight, or at the very least that you share her story.  There is no amount given that will not be greatly appreciated, as we know full well that any gift is a gift of love, of support, and of strength.  We are at our best when we come together as friends, as a team, as a community.  With our help and support, Ashley will beat this.

For more on Ashley’s journey: https://www.onlineathens.com/story/sports/high-school/soccer/2021/05/03/clarke-central-high-school-assistant-ashley-wassel-still-beats-cancer/4890420001/

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