Ashley Poland with snowboard
Donors gave a young cancer survivor a new chance at life. Meet Ashley Poland.
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Ashley Poland Snowboarding
Because of the generosity of donors the OSUCCC James is becoming a national leader in supporting young patients like Ashley.

Ashley’s diagnosis with synovial sarcoma 

Ashley Poland was 23, preparing to graduate from Ohio State, eagerly looking ahead to the rest of her life. Everything seemed possible.

For two years, Ashley had lived with a nagging pain in her leg. She had been seeing a chiropractor for relief, but a doctor finally ordered new tests that would set her life down an entirely different path: Ashley had synovial sarcoma, a cancer that attacks soft tissue, usually near a joint. It is rare, striking between one and three people in a million. Suddenly, the goals Ashley had set for her life narrowed to one: survive. 

While her friends graduated, started careers and met their future husbands and wives, Ashley started chemotherapy, had surgery to remove the sarcoma and endured radiation to destroy any cancer cells that remained.

“It’s much harder on a younger person because they’re going through major life transitions already” Maryam Lustberg, MD Medical Director of Survivorship, The OSUCCC –James

Cancer impacts young people differently

When cancer strikes people as young as Ashley, it leaves powerful scars. It can affect their financial future. It can hinder their ability to have children. It can disrupt their love lives, careers, relationships with family and friends and their faith.

“It’s much harder on a younger person because they’re going through major life transitions already,” says Maryam Lustberg, MD, MPH, medical director of Survivorship at the OSUCCC – James. “There’s a huge need to have support tailored to their unique situation.”

In fact, adolescent and young adult cancers are the least studied, least funded and least understood of all cancers. That’s why, thanks to support from donors and community fundraising events, research teams at Ohio State are studying the effects of cancer on young adults and building new programs to help them navigate life through treatment — and beyond.

New AYA programs now available to young patients

Dr. Maryam Lustberg on new Adolescent and Young Adult cancer programming and services at The James.

“Starting the whole adolescent and young adult cancer program and really focusing on raising money for it is a huge step.” Ashley Poland Cancer Survivor

Fundrasing and awareness with Next Gen

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Funds raised from the Mac and Cheese Fest directly support adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer research and programming at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.
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More than $70,000 was raised through the 2017 Mac & Cheese Festival.
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The 2018 Columbus Mac & Cheese Festival will return on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 to Easton Town Center.

Helping young adults fight cancer

Ashley has been cancer-free for almost seven years, but her experience left her with a deep desire to help other young adults fighting cancer. She became an OSUCCC – James Ambassador with NextGen, a group of young people devoted to improving the lives of young cancer patients. For the last two years, NextGen has sponsored the Mac and Cheese Festival, which has raised nearly $140,000 for research, therapy and support programs that meet the specific needs of young adults with cancer.

"Starting adolescent and young adult cancer programs that really focus on raising money, awareness, and research for AYA is a huge step, and that’s what we’re doing.” Ashley said. “These young adults are our future, so we should be doing everything we can for them.”

And what would she say to donors?

“I would like to thank them and let them know what a large impact their donations make on such an important population, that often gets forgotten. We are able to do so much more research because of our donors.”

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