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December 30, 2013

Local man with cancer gets boost from FPS community

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Local man with cancer gets boost from FPS community
Ally Ash, of Farmington Hills, center will find out if he is cancer-free in January. He has the support of his wife, Andrea Ash, and their children Ava, 9, left, and Aiden, 7.

FARMINGTON HILLS — New Year’s is about setting, and for the most part, keeping resolutions: lose weight, manage debt, take that long-planned trip across the country.

For Ally Ash, 40, of Farmington Hills, his new year entails finding out whether he is cancer-free this month.

After being diagnosed with colorectal cancer in early May, Ash underwent radiation treatments in May and June, chemotherapy treatments from about mid-May to November, and when he had finished chemotherapy treatments in October, he had chemotherapy surgery a week before Thanksgiving.

Ash, a husband and a father to a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old at Hillside Elementary School, discussed his seemingly uphill battle with cancer at his kitchen table Dec. 18 in front of a bay window decorated with stickers of snowmen, with picturesque snow-capped evergreens protruding from his backyard.

“I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” Ash said. “It was just like, I have stage 4 cancer — does this mean I am going to die this year?”

He was scheduled to have an MRI after Christmas and to take some tests in mid-January to see where his health is.

“We’re going to see what is left, because after the CAT scan, it (the cancer) was only in the liver,” Ash said.

Although he said he is not certain about the outcome of the tests, he is sure about one thing: He is not going down passively.

“I just said, I’m not going to go down without a fight,” he said. “I was more mad because I could potentially not see my kids grow up and grow old with my wife. It was just like, I’ve done everything right. We’ve moved to a house in a nice neighborhood in a nice school (district) and built this life,” he said.

The presence of his children — Aiden, 7, and Ava, 9 — and wife were evident in the holiday touches in the house: four stockings lined the fireplace mantle, his children’s art projects hung on the family’s sliding doors and windows nearby, and unfinished art projects dotted the table where he sat, glitter-covered crafts galore.

“I was like, you are not taking this life away from me,” he said. “I am not ready to go. … This is why I am fighting — this is it right here: these two kids and this wife.”

He said that up until May, he thought he was in good health, but a visit to the doctor, prompted by Crohn’s disease on his mother’s side, revealed the stage 4 cancer.

By the time he turned 40 in October, Ash had gone through 13 radiation treatments and 12 rounds of chemotherapy, and suffered severe side effects that left him battling neuropathy, which left some of his nerves nonfunctional.

“(Chemotherapy) is beating down your healthy cells throughout your whole body,” he said.

Ash had to take a medical leave from Baker College in Allen Park May 3, where he was an English and psychology professor. He said he had no energy to work, but he plans to get back as soon as he gets better.

Aside from his love of teaching, he also has to adjust to activities around the house.

“I used to love to cook. I can’t do that as much anymore,” he said. 

He added that he still does things around the house that keep his muscles going, which includes shoveling snow.

“I go out there for maybe 15 minutes and that is it,” he said. “A year ago, I would be out there for an hour and a half.”

Ash said that by next October, his body should be a bit more functional, but there are still some uncertainties.

That is where the Farmington Public Schools District, and others, comes in.

From plowing snow to bringing food multiple times throughout the week, Hillside staff and PTA, among other community members and friends, have helped the Ashes out in more ways than one. Cub Scouts Pack 179 has helped by donating gift cards and cash for snow removal service, fall yard cleanup and food, among other things.

Wife Andrea Ash, 40, said that after living in the community for five years, she felt at one with the community when her family really needed the help.

“It really just kind of solidified our place in the community,” she said. “We have felt so at home. You get to know your neighbors and things like that, but when something like this happens, everybody, people in our neighborhood came forward right away.”

She said that from donating gift cards to many other things in between, the school’s (Husky) Helpers, which helps families in need, stepped up.

In the fall, the Helpers dropped off meals to the family two to three times a week. 

“It is fantastic for a working mom to come home and not have to do all that,” Andrea Ash said.

Hillside Principal Pam Green said the school prides itself on being a caring community.

“It is just a real important part of our Hillside community,” she said. “It is a joint effort all the way.”

Ally Ash said while the community has helped him and his family tremendously, his wife has been his rock.

She said she is just doing her job.

“We’re grateful that it didn’t go to his lungs or lymph nodes,” she said of the cancer. “Hopefully, when they stage him, he will be back down to stage zero — who knows? — or he will be in remission. That is what we are hoping for.”

For more information or to donate to the family, call Hillside Elementary School at (248) 489-3773.