Each month we will share an inspiring story about one of our Breast Friends Warrior Women
Ashley’s Story ~ A Life Filled With Purpose
Ashley’s animals are her joy. Be it her dogs, cats, horses or chickens; they have all contributed to her unique journey. Taking that sense of joy and turning it into not only a shelter in life’s storms, but its very purpose; that is what makes Ashley’s story so special.
Horses have always played an integral part in Ashley’s life. Her passion carried her through a variety of opportunities in numerous states that included building barns, apprenticing at a natural horsemanship ranch, and working at another ranch where she was responsible for the health and wellness of horses and later still, assisting in horse breeding, foal and yearling care.
Along the way, Ashley fell in love with two horses… a beautiful mare named Mariah (seen in photo) who she has had for 10 years and a handsome, gentle Lusitano named Delirio who she competes with in a sport called “Working Equitation”. To this day, Ashley admits that as much as she has taken care of her horses, it is often her horses who have taken care of her. Giving her unconditional love and understanding throughout her journey.
It was, however, her love for her dogs that led to a job that would turn into her life’s purpose.
Early on, Ashley enrolled in training service dogs for the visually impaired, which then led to her becoming an instructor for Guide Dogs for the Blind. When a position opened at the Oregon Commission for the Blind, Ashley embraced the opportunity. She shares that, “it’s been my privilege to help people learn basic skills such as using their appliances, preparing meals and paying bills. Teaching them techniques so they can fully engage in life.” Subsequently Ashley, expanded her role to Rehabilitation Instructor, and in 2018, she made the decision to returned to graduate school to pursue her Master’s Degree in Education. What she did not plan for was adding a diagnosis of breast cancer and a pandemic to the equation.
“I’ve had some highs and lows in my adult life that rivaled breast cancer, so I thought I could take it in stride and keep my head up.” But she found herself struggling with balancing work, school and the toll cancer was taking on her. After bursting into tears in her plastic surgeon’s office, she was reminded that it might be helpful to connect with other women who have been on this same path. That was when she reached out to Breast Friends.
Ashley clearly recalls her conversation with Michelle Beck, Program Assistant with Breast Friends. “As I talked to Michelle and shared a little bit, I was amazed at how validated I felt. She was warm, welcoming and hilarious! She helped me see that while all breast cancer patients are on the same journey it can be very individual paths.” Ashley got the analogy that every cancer patient is in the same storm but on different ships. That first conversation with Breast Friends got her breathing easier and she started warming up to the ideas that a little support might just help. She decided to attend their Young Warrior Retreat at the Oregon Coast to dip her toes into the support water.
The retreat was filled with laughter, tears and connections. She recalls, “I thought the weight on my chest was just the implants causing me some issue but turns out I don’t think I had taken a deep breath in quite some time. I was holding on to so many emotions.” The Breast Friends Retreat was just what she needed, and it became a beautiful silver lining to her cancer journey, “our group has stayed in touch and has been a source of so much encouragement to me.”
When asked how breast cancer has changed her, Ashley shared, “I have always loved helping other people. Cancer has allowed me to become more comfortable with receiving help as well. This has allowed me to identify with my visually impaired clients who might not want to ask for assistance as they work to maintain their independence. This journey has allowed me to see our interdependence as human beings and convey that lesson to my clients.”
By the time this article appears, Ashley will have graduated with her master’s degree and a 4.0 GPA through it all. When the restrictions placed on us by COVID-19 lift, she will continue her work with the blind, but she is also excited to give back to the community of women she met with Breast Friends. Ashley hopes to share the healing power of her precious horses, Mariah and Delirio with women, and their families, going through a diagnosis. Completing the circle of joy her animals brought her during her journey with breast cancer.
At the end of the day, Ashley is reminded of what really matters to her, “I have a life I love that’s built around the people, animals and experiences that make me laugh, smile and cry.”
A life filled with purpose.