Ashton Parson was just 13-months-old the first time diagnosed with cancer. The cancer was neuroblastoma. Stage 4.
“They told my parents that I had a 10% chance of survival,” Ashton said.
She beat those frightening odds, but chemotherapy and other aggressive treatments ravaged Ashton’s tiny body, resulting in multiple long-term side effects.
“I consider the most serious side effect to be my hearing loss,” Ashton said. “And the numerous orthopedic problems I’ve had, caused by my chemo.”
As a young child, Ashton endured more than a dozen surgeries on her hips and legs, including a procedure called an osteotomy on her right leg.
“That’s where they cut your femur in two and they put a plate in there so it can grow back together properly,” she said.
Another type of cancer
At age 14, Ashton was diagnosed with yet another type of cancer: osteosarcoma. Doctors found a huge tumor on her left side, wrapped and intertwined around her pelvis and hip bone. Twelve months of chemotherapy caused Ashton’s hair to fall out.
“That was one of the harder parts for me,” Ashton said. “I would always wear earrings and paint my nails but I was still mistaken for a boy a lot. My very first treatment made me so sick I didn’t eat for three days. I just remember thinking to myself, ‘how did I do this as a baby? How did a baby go through this?’ I was 14 and it was awful to me.”
Surgeon’s had to reconstruct Ashton’s pelvis – and replace a hip – after removing a massive tumor.
Others might feel sorry for themselves, but not Ashton. A large tattoo on the inside of her left forearm says it all: “Survivor. Never a victim. Always a fighter.”
JOINING A GYM
Weak and in constant pain, Ashton joined Anytime Fitness in Wake Village, TX two years ago, determined to strengthen her battered body. For six months, Ashton and her husband, Jake, worked out together with personal trainer Meagan Armstrong.
“I can’t even explain how proud I am of her,” said Jake. “When she sets her mind to something, she’s going to do it.”
“What impresses me most is that not even cancer could stop her,” said Meagan as she watched climb up a twenty-foot rope towards the ceiling of the gym.”
“She’s got bad arthritis, but she deals with it every day like a champ,” said Jake. “She never complains. She just gets up and comes to the gym almost on a daily basis. Stays happy, stays positive.”
Ashton says lifting weights and getting stronger has made her feel empowered and that Meagan’s encouragement has been crucial to improving her health and fitness.
“I think that Meagan is priceless,” Ashton said. “She cares more about others than anyone I’ve ever met.”
“One of the most important lessons that all of us can learn from what Ashton has accomplished,” Meagan said, “is that the biggest obstacles are in your head. Your desire to accomplish something has to be bigger and tougher than your excuses.”
In additional to one-on-one training with Meagan, Ashton enjoys the camaraderie of group training with other Anytime Fitness members.
“It’s like a huge family,” Ashton said. It’s often the highlight of my day.
At only 4’ 10” and 95 pounds, with a reconstructed pelvis, Ashton recently began competing in powerlifting meets.
“She is very, very excited to go further with her journey and to work out and learn new things and be better and improve herself every day,” said Brent Bernard, the owner of Anytime Fitness in Wake Village.
“I don’t look at the cancer as a negative,” Ashton said. “I feel like it has shaped me to be who I am now.”
And for others, who may feel overwhelmed by life’s challenges, Ashton offers simple words of encouragement.
Pick a starting point, take all the baby steps in the world but don’t quit,” Ashton said. “You just have to keep going.”
Last weekend, at Anytime Fitness’ annual conference in Palm Springs, CA, Ashton was honored as a “National Member Success Story Winner,” the company’s most prestigious award for its members.
“There are nearly 3,800 Anytime Fitness gyms serving more than 3,000,000 members worldwide,” said Dave Mortensen, president of Anytime Fitness. “Ashton was honored as one of only three ‘Member Success Story Winners’ for 2017 not only because she dramatically improved her own health, but also because she demonstrated poise and grace while enduring and overcoming the most challenging circumstances. She’s a true inspiration to anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed and he’s living proof that hard work and determination can change lives.”