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Ashton Hawkins

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Ashton’s story begins with her. A beautiful, loving, selfless girl. Our “mini mama.” She truly has the biggest heart and always puts others before herself. Ever since she was born, Ashton has been such a light in our life, with the most contagious giggle. Her love of life, for her sisters, helping others, and being so giving and selfless are just some of the things that make Ashton so special to us. She is the calm presence I need on those crazy, “can’t get anything done” days.

 

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Ashton’s cancer story didn’t start with a brain scan. It began weeks before her brain cancer was discovered. Her symptoms began with dizziness, followed by terrible headaches where her skull and spine meet, and finally many bouts of vomiting.

 

After consecutive weeks of headaches, Ashton's mom asked where exactly her head hurt, and she pointed to the lower back side of her head. Ashton's mom says  "That was the first time the “C” word ran across my mind. But as we sometimes do, I told myself, 'No way, not us. This can’t be cancer.'"

 

Ashton's mom knew that was not a normal spot for a headache. But then she reasoned that the headaches were getting so frequent, and the medicine hadn’t been helping, and she would keep a really close eye on things.

 

After cheer practice one night, her head started hurting so bad that she was screaming. That was another moment the “C” word ran across my brain, but again I told myself, “I’m just being paranoid. There is no way. Not us.”

 

Even though I was talking myself out of Ashton’s headaches being something too serious, I brought her to the ER at Cincinnati Children’s Liberty, where they sent me instead to urgent care where my concerns were dismissed and not even a scan, bloodwork were done, only an eye exam. Their remedy: “drink mountain dew, at least she’s not throwing up.”

 

A few days later however, Ashton started vomiting. I wanted to wait a day or two to see if it was just a virus, and my concerns were pacified when my youngest got sick as well. Later that week, my fears were confirmed again. Ashton started getting sick but her headaches were less frequent and again, I assumed that the throwing up could be a result of migraines.

 

Ashton went to her first day of school for 2023, but I made sure to send a note with her asking that if she went to the nurse with a headache, to contact me immediately. I had an appointment scheduled with her pediatrician for a headache assessment and assumed I would call and see if they could squeeze her in earlier.

 

We never made it to that appointment.

 

Before Ashton’s second day of school, she got sick again. I called my husband and said we need to get her to the emergency room now. I called her doctor’s office and asked they call ahead to the ER and just two hours later our lives were changed forever.

 

The initial CT scan showed a 3x4cm mass in the back of her brain, right by her spinal cord.

 

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August 22, 2023 is etched in my mind forever. When my phone rang with my husband and the doctor on the line, he said “we found a mass.” Uncontrollable tears started streaming down my face uncontrollably. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t talk. I’d known. And I hadn’t done anything sooner because I’d kept telling myself it wasn’t cancer, it couldn’t be.

 

Within 24 hours, we learned she had an aggressive form of brain cancer and was to undergo a nine-hour surgery within three days. Even more scary – she had to constantly be monitored beforehand in case things went downhill fast.

 

Suddenly, with known is so unclear, I found myself helpless to make things better.

 

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As you can imagine, our life was immediately upended, and we had to adjust our schedules and children’s live to make sure either me or my husband were at the hospital. She was only allowed friends and visitors for one day, and then it became a strict, small list of only four people, who we can only switch out on a weekly basis.

 

They days leading up to her surgery were torture. While we pled with doctors for some sort of inkling of our daughter’s type of cancer and survival rate, doctors were unable to provide us with anything until they had the biopsy results. The minutes, hours, and days were a torturous waiting game. Before learning the answers we so desperately needed, the wait between pre-surgery, surgery, and post-surgery for outcomes and biopsy results were the hardest days of my life.

 

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On August 25, 2023, Ashton underwent an anticipated 6-hour surgery that turned into 9 hours. The whole day was a blur of trying to stay busy and trying not to overthink.

 

Once she was out of surgery, we learned that they had gotten the entire tumor, and in our hearts, we felt peace for the first time in days.

 

After surgery, I witnessed Ashton wreathing in pain. My six-year-old daughter crying that it “wasn’t fair.” My heart was torn from my chest. I felt like I was breaking inside. This was now our reality. Ashton didn’t deserve this. No kid deserves this.

 

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When you find out your child has brain cancer, the first thought is why, and then instantly, wanting to take her place. But I couldn’t. She was in the hands of surgeons who would be operating on her brain. Everything was dependent on their hands and ability to get all the cancer during the surgery, and prayers because this was also in the Lord’s hands. 

 

When it was time to meet with the oncologist and neurosurgeon, we learned with the biopsy results was that they didn’t get the whole tumor, meaning that there was still cancer in her brain.

 

Then we learned all about medulloblastoma, type WNT, and her life expectancy. Her oncologist also talked with us about the long path to recovery and the long-term  facts such as if her cancer returns, it will be more virulent then ever. That she will be infertile, could lose her hearing, that because of her treatment regimen, her chances of getting secondary cancer needs to be understood, that our sweet girl will forever be impacted with an unsteady gate, neurological issues, mental delays, a harder time socializing and being able to do and learn as quickly as her peers, and that if her cancer in her brain comes back, it will be more virulent than ever and her chances of beating cancer decrease significantly.

 

Words like chemo, radiation, fertility, life expectancy, and more were not things we “just knew about.” These were our daughter’s reality, and decisions we would need to make on her behalf. With very little time to decide.

 

 

 

 

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Ashton turned 7 in the hospital on September 2, 2023. People from around the world have been praying for her. Our community lifted us up and has done everything one could think of to help our family. To make her birthday extra special, we created a wish list of items, and hundreds of people sent gifts. 

 

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Following a month stay at the hospital after her first brain surgery, Ashton had to relearn how to walk, talk, eat, use her hands and arms and so much more.

 

She still has an unsteady gate, and as a lefty, is unable to use her left arm or hand very well, and has become a righty. But I hope once day she can write how she is most comfortable again, with her left hand.

 

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The day we finally got to bring her home was full of celebration. Taylor Swift was playing on the speaker outside, and we had streamers lining the inside and outside of the house, a huge banner that had been signed by everyone at her school, and posters that had been made by friends, the schools in our districts, cheer, and football teams, teachers, and so many others hung up on the outside of the garage door.

 

It was the moment we’d been waiting for since she was rushed to the hospital after her CT scan revealed the tumor, and we all felt so much happiness and relief to have her home again.

 

All that happiness quickly diminished when two hours after we got home, I received a call from her oncologist. The MRI they’d taken earlier that day showed that more cancer had grown on the other side of where her tumor was, in a different part of her brain.

 

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We made the most of the time we had with Ashton before her second brain surgery. We had five or six days, and in that time threw her the most amazing surprise birthday party that was what dreams are made of, she led the Kings homecoming parade, was celebrated on the football field in front of the entire stadium before the game, and we all spent as much time together as we possibly could. We let her sisters stay home from sports, school, and had her friends over as much as we could.

 

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Since her second brain surgery, Ashton has completed six consecutive weeks of radiation, rang the bell, underwent a fertility treatment called ovarian tissue preservation, and has started chemo. She’s had one round and will go in on February 15 to begin round two.

 

Through all that she has endured, Ashton has exuded strength, bravery, and fearlessness. All emotions no child should have to undergo at her age. Or facing a life-threatening brain cancer diagnosis.

 

Even through the pain of brain surgery and all the hardships that come with it like relearning how to use her eyes, extremities, eating, walking, and talking, through losing her hair, throwing up nearly every day, and the daily exhaustion she experiences, Ashton still smiles and giggles all the time and never gets in slumps of feeling bad for herself.

 

We’ve had to have many raw and honest talks with her about her surgeries, what brain cancer is, what effects of radiation and chemo, the pain she will feel, the long battle she has ahead, about losing her hair, and even that it might be harder for her to have babies one day.

 

With her treatments to her brain and spine, she will likely never start puberty on her own, and the chances of her being able to conceive are completely unknown. The only thing we do know is that based on her radiation and chemo regimen, she is in the 95 – 100% range of infertility. As a little girl who has loved babies since she was able to walk, anytime she has ever been asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she says “a mommy,” and I have shed so many tears over this.

 

She truly is a cancer warrior and the epitome of endurance and perseverance. I am in awe of how she handles every day, every new treatment, and every new symptom. I am in awe that she never complains. I am in awe that many days my sweet daughter is so much stronger than I am. I am in awe that is the most beautiful girl, inside and out. I am in awe of her loving and generous heart. I am in awe that my little mommy's helper, even through all that she has been through, is still the first one to help me around the house, help with her sisters, and give me the grace I often need while we all weather this storm together.

 

You see, when Ashton turned 7 in the hospital, after her first brain surgery, we couldn’t throw her a party like most kids would get, but we did the best we could within her hospital room with the help of friends, family, and our community. Despite the pain she was in, being restricted to her bed with tubes and monitors everywhere, and an eye patch on her eye, she still managed to tell us, "this was the best day ever."

 

And that is just who Ashton is. She's our hero, our optimist, our grateful, sweet, and amazing sister, and daughter.

Date of Diagnosis:
August 30, 20123
Age at Diagnosis:
6 year old
Age Now: 
7 years old
Type of Brain Cancer:
Medulloblastoma
Summary of Treatment:
-2 Brain surgeries
-PFS
-6 weeks of radiation
-Ovarian Tissue Preservation
-9 rounds of chemo
 

"In a house of 5 daughters who are sisters, and best friends, my girls have an unbreakable bond. And when I truly think about it, I always wondered why God blessed us with all girls. I never pondered it a lot, but it makes sense today.

 

With Ashton being so isolated from the world, she has four of the best friends, supporters, and cheerleaders every little girl would dream of. They keep her busy, even more motivated, and even at such young ages, have seen how cancer has changed their sister while they themselves are trying hard to navigate their own understanding of cancer.

 

Nothing could change their love and fierce protection they have for her." - Amanda, Ashton's Mom

  

"I hope that Ashton will have a success story to give the parents who are just starting out in their journey the faith that their child will make it through and that they are so strong, no matter how they feel during this battle. 

 

While I hold onto the hope that federal funding will change and childhood cancer treatments and funding will receive the awareness it needs, our voices seem to fall on deaf ears, and I hope one day, as a collective group, our advocacy moves mountains and eradicating childhood cancer becomes a national movement."
-Amanda, Ashton's Mom

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