Ashley Walls started noticing unusual things happening with her body halfway through her pregnancy.
First, the 29-year-old mother-to-be noticed the nipple on her left breast was flush with her skin. Next, her breast hardened. But at her prenatal appointments, she was assured that the changes were pregnancy-related and everything would normalize after the birth.
When Walls’ daughter, June Rose, was born on Aug 8, 2021, the nurse at her breastfeeding session immediately noticed something was off-kilter.
The nurse ordered an ultrasound and made an appointment for a biopsy four days later. At that appointment, Walls says medical personnel compared photos of the mass and told her they were confident it wasn’t cancer since the mass had shrunk. She left with instructions to schedule a follow-up appointment in three months, and no biopsy was performed.
Life with a newborn went on as normal until early October when Walls began experiencing lower back pain. It started as a minor ache, but within a week became so severe she couldn’t pick up her baby. As a busy new mom, she found it hard to commit the time to sit in a clinic waiting room. Finally, a friend showed up at her door and told her he was taking her to the doctor – a visit that would last 13 hours.
At the clinic, doctors were puzzled. They told Walls her vertebrae were compressed and cracked as if she had been in a major car accident or like she was an elderly person with brittle bones who’d fallen. After numerous tests, she left and asked the clinic to call her with the results.
Walls was at a friend’s house with others when she got the call. It was a nurse with the results of her scan. The nurse told Walls she had breast cancer, which had spread to her back.
“I don’t even know exactly what she said,” Walls remarked. “She just kept saying ‘cancer, cancer.’ Walls was in disbelief and finally asked the nurse to stop saying the word.
Walls was diagnosed with Stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer, which is a very rare and aggressive cancer that metastasized to her bones. Her doctors told her there was a one in a million chance that someone her age suffered from that particular cancer.
Now, Walls spends nearly every day in the hospital. She started radiation on Friday, and her first round of chemotherapy is Monday.
Walls says her emotions are ever-changing. “Sometimes I’m extremely confident that everything is going to be OK,” she said, her voice breaking. “And then I have other days that I’m in so much pain, I wonder why I’m doing this. I can’t lay down, I can’t pick up my kid.”
Friends have gone above and beyond to help with June Rose, says Walls. Childcare has been the least of her worries with her support system. Living expenses and medical bills are her biggest concern. Approval for disability and other programs takes time, and Walls lost her job at a local restaurant when it shut its doors last month.
Even if Walls does get disability, at age 29, she’s not likely to qualify for an amount that will make a significant difference. She wonders how she’ll pay her rent and afford medications that her insurance doesn’t cover. There are baby expenses, too. June Rose can only use pro-sensitive Similac, and diapers and wipes are a constant need.
Walls’ friends have created a Go Fund Me page to help with her expenses as she battles her illness. The campaign has raised more than $1,700 in its first two days.