Ashley Walker

When you’re 29 years old, you expect many things in life, but not that you’ll wake up one day and notice something different about your breasts. But that’s what happened to Ashley Walker one October day in 2012. She noticed a flattening on her right breast. Then she felt a lump. She’s young and fit and figured it was nothing, but she called the Breast Health Clinic at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Women’s Center and made an appointment just to be sure. 

Ashley Walker
Ashley Walker

Breast Cancer Survivor

  • At age 29, noticed changes in her right breast
  • Seen right away at the SCCA Women’s Center and received an ultrasound, mammogram, and biopsy all in the same day
  • Diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC)
  • Treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and reconstructive surgery at SCCA

When you’re 29 years old, you expect many things in life, but not that you’ll wake up one day and notice something different about your breasts. But that’s what happened to Ashley Walker one October day in 2012. She noticed a flattening on her right breast. Then she felt a lump. She’s young and fit and figured it was nothing, but she called the Breast Health Clinic at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Women’s Center and made an appointment just to be sure. 

Breast Cancer Diagnosis

The next day, Ashley saw Laila Mansoori, an advanced registered nurse practitioner, who doubted Ashley had anything serious but ordered an ultrasound to get a look inside. The ultrasound didn’t give an all-clear though, so Ashley had a mammogram and then a biopsy on that very same day. 

That afternoon, Laila referred Ashley to the SCCA Breast Cancer Specialty Center (BCSC) with a suspicion of breast cancer. Her diagnosis was confirmed as stage IIIA Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.

Ashley met with her BCSC medical team: Sara H. Javid, MD, University of Washington assistant professor of surgery; Julie R. Gralow, MD, director of SCCA Breast Medical Oncology, and Janice N. Kim, MD, UW associate professor of radiation oncology. Ashley’s team decided to treat her cancer with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. 

“I wanted to get rid of it!” said Ashley, who opted, with her team’s support, to have a bilateral mastectomy—to remove her known cancer and also reduce her risk for another cancer later in her other breast.

IDC Treatment

Ashley had surgery in November 2012 at UW Medical Center. She wasn’t married but considered that someday she would likely want to start a family. So before she began the next phase of treatment, chemotherapy, which often puts women into early menopause, Ashley went through the process to freeze her eggs (cryopreservation) in December. 

Self-described as “laid back, reserved, and practical,” Ashley has no qualms about her choice of treatment. “Getting a mastectomy was an easy choice. I didn’t want to risk the future,” she said. 

Standard chemotherapy for IDC—five months of doxorubicin (Adriamycin), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), and docetaxel (Taxotere)—began in January. Dr. Gralow’s specialty team, Kathleen Tilton, RN, OCN, and Denise Bundow, MSN, ARNP, were there with Ashley to administer her treatment and see her through her follow-up. 

Finally, Ashley had radiation therapy five days a week for six weeks starting in June. 

Living Dual Lives

Despite the rigors of treatment, Ashley’s life wasn’t entirely about cancer. In between chemotherapy and radiation, she got engaged, and her fiancé, Shawn, bought them a house. “I had two lives,” Ashley said, “my normal life and my cancer life. I had my work and friends; I went out on the weekends. When I needed to, I went to my cancer appointments.”

She also tried to keep exercising during treatment. “The steroids [given to reduce side effects] made me feel really good, so I walked a lot,” Ashley said. In addition to being a patient at UWMC, she actually works there, too, as a cardiothoracic anesthesia division specialist and would often walk all the way from work to her home, near Northgate at the time, about seven miles away. 

Getting cancer when she was young and healthy makes Ashley angry, and she gets angry at the fear of it coming back. But she doesn’t let it stop her. She had reconstructive surgery in January 2014 with Hakim Said, MD,  UW assistant professor of plastic surgery. 

In August 2014, she and Shawn were married on the Seattle waterfront. She plans to get a tattoo of a cherry blossom branch with a pink ribbon. And for the next few years, she’ll take tamoxifen (Nolvadex) to help prevent a recurrence, make regular follow-up visits to the SCCA Women’s Wellness Clinic, and get back to the hiking and camping she and Shawn loved to do before she got cancer.

Finding the Bright Side

"Breast cancer is terrible for women!” Ashley said. “You lose your breasts, your hair, get zits and gain weight from treatment. Some say, ‘Why me?’ But cancer made me stronger. It made the best of me come out—that’s why Shawn proposed. I prefer to feed on the positive. It perpetuates and attracts more positive.” 

In October 2014, Ashley was featured on posters in Safeway stores in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.