Local cancer survivor Ashley Poland (left) is working to inspire other children and young cancer patients by speaking and volunteering at events and schools. Here, she's participating as a patient model at a black tie event with the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation to raise money for pediatric cancer. Below, Poland shares her story of how United Way donors helped her during her fight with sarcoma.
It was Ashley Poland’s 23rd birthday. But instead of being out to celebrate a life of hope and promise with friends and family, Ashley spent her day in a sterile hospital room being diagnosed with cancer. The pain in her right thigh had swelled to a lump the size of a sweet potato. It was indeed more than a pulled muscle or an issue with her sciatic nerve as the doctors had previously told her.
“When I got the news, I was positive from the start,” Ashley said. “I don’t even remember crying right away. I thought, ‘I’m going to kick this. I’m going to be OK.’”
“I was in shock. Total disbelief,” confessed her mother, Cindy, upon finding out her daughter had sarcoma, a rare cancer of connective tissues, such as nerves, muscles, joints, and bones. “But when I saw her reaction, and how positive she was going into the treatments, I was determined to be a positive support system.”
Ashley admits it was very hard to put her life on hold, watching as her friends kept moving forward. The Fairbanks graduate was forced to drop out of her junior year at The Ohio State University so that she could begin nine months of chemotherapy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She had surgery to remove the tumor and 25 consecutive days of radiation treatments at the James Cancer Center. Her family made over 100 trips back and forth to Columbus for chemotherapy, clinic visits, surgery, radiation, and multiple unexpected emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
“There are many incidentals that insurance doesn’t cover and they accumulate quickly over a long term treatment plan,” Cindy said.
That’s when the Polands received a call from Karen Ruetty of the Union County Cancer Society, offering assistance. The United Way Partner Agency came through with gas cards via its mileage reimbursement program, which offers families up to $400 a year to pay for travel expenses associated with treatments. They also provided a hospital bed for Ashley to use at home.
“They came from out of nowhere from the community to help me, and it meant a lot,” said Ashley. “Having the hospital bed post surgery located on the main floor of the house was convenient, and saved a lot of extra walking and stress to my leg. The gas cards definitely helped with all of the trips to Columbus.”
“I can't imagine going through this with any of my children at any age, but Ashley was in college, doing well, and something like this comes out of the blue and your whole family life has changed in a blink of an eye!” said Ruetty, who has served as the local agency’s director for 19 years. “Ashley was so strong during her treatments, always trying to make others worry less. She set up a Facebook page to keep her friends and family informed of each step she was going through.”
“From start to finish for nine months, she never became bitter or questioned, ‘Why me?’” Cindy said. “She became the family’s hero because of how positive she stayed and her determination to ‘kick it.’”
Poland (left) with Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski. Poland is working to inspire other children and young cancer patients by speaking and volunteering at events and schools.
Ashley did kick it. She’s been in remission for two and a half years and breathes a sigh of relief every time her scans are clear. She credits her recovery to amazing doctors, a positive attitude, and the support of other cancer patients as she was going through treatment. Now in remission, she’s working to inspire children and other young cancer patients by speaking and volunteering at events, schools, and hospitals.
“Young cancer survivors were an inspiration to me during treatment, and I want to be an inspiration to others going through their journey,” Ashley said. “A positive attitude and great support system are the most important things when going through treatment, and I want to give back by encouraging other patients.”
Ashley graduated from The Ohio State University in 2012, is currently student teaching, and will begin her fulltime teaching career next fall. Her story has a happy ending, made possible in part by the help provided by the Union County Cancer Society.
The local agency provides direct financial support to cancer patients and is not affiliated with the American Cancer Society. In addition to mileage reimbursement, they can provide help with prescription medication and supplies. Ruetty works closely with the oncology departments at Memorial Hospital, Riverside Methodist Hospital, and the James Cancer Hospital, and Loving Care Hospice to receive referrals for local families who might need help. United Way funding accounts for 77 percent of its budget and the program would cease to exist without the support of the annual United Way campaign.
“During the almost year-long journey to Ashley’s wellness, the prayers, words of encouragement, support of the community, and the Union County Cancer Society helped our family get through a very difficult period and was very heartfelt,” said Cindy.
United Way has achieved 24 percent of its $1 million fundraising goal this fall. Donors can give at work via payroll deduction (be sure to designate Union County if you are employed outside the county), write a check and mail it to PO Box 145, Marysville, Ohio, 43040, or give online at www.unitedwayofunioncounty.org.
United Way works to bring neighbors and resources together to improve lives in Union County. United Way of Union County has raised more than $17 million for local needs since it was established in 1958. More than just a fundraiser, United Way collaborates with local businesses, government, and non-profit organizations to solve pressing social service issues large and small.