A 35-year-old mother of three is crediting her faith as the reason she miraculously survived stage 4 brain cancer a decade ago after being told she had days to live.
A month into her first pregnancy, Ashley Hallford of Douglasville, Georgia, felt a knot in the back of her head that became hard and painful.
“I actually discovered [the knot] right before I got pregnant,” she told Atlanta’s 11 Alive. “But I wrote it off to be a lymph node because it didn’t really hurt.”
But as the pain worsened, so did her symptoms. By the time she was 32 weeks pregnant, she was concerned it was something serious, and soon got the devastating news that the lump was indeed cancerous.
“Pathologists from all over the country studied the lump,” Hallford told the news outlet. “They all agreed that it was a rare and very aggressive, possibly hormonally fueled cancer. But nobody could diagnose it.”
On Nov. 17, 2007, at 33 weeks, she was induced so that she could begin treatment with her husband, David, by her side.
“We were preparing for our son to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit,” she says, “But when he was born, he didn’t have to. He got to go home two days later. The NICU doctor came in to see us, and he said that never in his career had he seen a 33-week term baby not go to the NICU, even for evaluation. That was just a miracle.”
She underwent surgery to remove the mass just four days after giving birth. The results, which came back five weeks later, showed that the cancer had spread to her brain, both lungs and a spot on her liver. She was diagnosed as stage 4.
It was then, in Jan. 2008, that doctors told her the brain tumor was inoperable. They also performed a full body scan that showed other cancerous spots throughout her body.
“At that point, they stopped trying to figure out what it was, saying, ‘We need to start treating her, or she’s gonna die.’ ” she recalls.
Despite receiving the lifetime maximum dosage of radiation in just six weeks, the tumors continued to grow.
She then turned to faith.
“In February or March 2008, at my church, they started praying and fasting, for the whole month,” she told 11 Alive. “I continued chemo through July 2008, and then had more scans to check progress. I was praying because if there was no change or things were worse, I would be out of options.”
Doctors told her it was time to start recording every memory with her family because they didn’t know how many more she’d be able to make.
“So that’s what we did,” Hallford says. “That’s where we were at the end of July. They didn’t even know what they were battling, so there would be no other options.”
When she went back in for scans, she was prepared to hear that her final days had arrived. Instead, she was told she had many more ahead.
“They said, ‘The radiologist report shows no evidence of disease present,’ “ she recalls. “I was so dumbfounded by what she said that I was like, ‘What does that mean?’ She said, ‘It means you’re in remission.’ ”
Her medical oncologist, Dr. Debra Miller, told the news outlet that she admitted to Hallford that, “I never thought you would have made it.”
“Theoretically, with stage 4 cancer, you’re not curable,” says Miller. “I met Ashley when she was pregnant, when she had the neck mass. After her first round of treatment, more disease was found in her lungs, and she was retreated. After that, she’s been disease free … it’s nothing short of miraculous.”
Hallford said that she fought to stay alive for her son. In July, she’ll have been in remission for nine years.
“I credit my recovery to God, 100 percent,” she said.
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Her miracles only continued from there. After a fertility doctor told her that she was in full-blown menopause and that there was no chance she could have another biological child, she went on to have two more —a boy in 2013 and a girl in January.
“I just want to spread hope,” she says. “When I speak at churches, I speak about the fear. The fear and uncertainty, especially not knowing what I had. It’s scary.”
She added: “I want to give people the strength to go on — even when it comes to infertility. And if that’s what I could do in life, I would die happy one day.”