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Ashley Fernandez on Living a Joyful Life with Metastatic Breast Cancer

When Ashley Fernandez felt a lump and asked her doctor for an ultrasound, she was told that at 31 years old and with no family history of breast cancer, she was too young to have the disease. As a mother of a 3-year-old balancing her Air Force family’s busy life, Ashley tried to put the lump out of her mind. But a month later, it was still there.

“Something triggered me where I thought, ‘This is something serious. I need to go back.’ I got seen in military hospitals, and there’s a big referral process. You go see a doctor, get a referral and then see another doctor. I had a hard time getting that referral. I ended up advocating for myself, and we found out that I had cancer.”

Ashley was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) with significant bone involvement in 2018. Since then, she has dedicated herself as a public policy and research advocate for the MBC community and currently sits on the Susan G. Komen MBC Steering Committee. Ashley hopes to inspire other people living with MBC to lead the fullest and most joyful life they possibly can.

Surrounding herself with a team of people who can help boost her emotional, mental and physical strength has been critical since her diagnosis. Ashley’s husband, Carlos, and mother, Maria, serve as her caretakers and constant sources of support.

“My husband is so supportive in every single way that you could imagine,” Ashley said. “When you go through this, you don’t think at 30 years old you’re going to need your husband to be washing you or helping you. It’s a different level of intimacy and realness. It’s embarrassing at first, but then it’s so glorious to know you have a partner that’s willing to do all that with you.”

Ashley’s daughter, Davyn, now 7, also helps her find strength on the toughest days when she is struggling with symptoms.

“Being a young mom with cancer is one thing but being a young mom with metastatic breast cancer is a whole other story, because you basically know that your life is dangling in front of you,” Ashley said. “I look at my daughter and I see hope. There are times when I think, ‘Hurry up and grow up, Davyn. I want to be here for everything. I don’t want to miss a thing.’ And then I think, ‘Wait, slow down. It’s happening too fast. Pause!’”

Ashley hopes to set an example for Davyn that she can still choose to be joyful, even when circumstances are difficult.

“I look at her, and she’s always watching me. She’s my shadow,” Ashley said. “I want to make sure I’m presenting myself in a way that she knows that, yes, we have difficulties, and yes, difficulties are hard and they’re true, but our circumstances are what we make of them.”

While Ashley knows she faces immense difficulties in living with MBC, she prefers not to use language like “fighting for your life” or “she lost the battle.”

“People will say, ‘You’re fighting for your life.’ Am I really fighting? Because it’s not really a fair fight. Cancer is attacking me. I can’t fight against cancer. Or when they say, ‘She lost her battle.’ Did I really, though? Because I didn’t ever give up,” Ashley said. “I am fighting every day for my life. It’s true. But it’s not a fight that I’m necessarily going to win because eventually, the cancer is going to get smart.”

Ashley said she finds hope in knowing that research will continue to drive new treatments and one day, the cures for those living with MBC.

“I think the greatest advice I could give somebody is to just go a day at a time and go based on how you feel,” Ashley said. “Thankfully, every day we are getting more and more money for research, which then is going to lead to a cure eventually. That’s hopeful.”

Statements and opinions expressed are that of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.