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  • The human relations committee at Cape St. Claire Elementary raised $2,500 for Pennies for Patients.
    Photo Provided
    The human relations committee at Cape St. Claire Elementary raised $2,500 for Pennies for Patients.
  • The human relations committee at Cape St. Claire Elementary raised $2,500 for Pennies for Patients.
    Photo Provided
    The human relations committee at Cape St. Claire Elementary raised $2,500 for Pennies for Patients.

Cape St. Claire Rallies Around Mom With Leukemia

Zach Sparks
View Bio
June 8, 2018

In March 2016, Ashley Pitchforth was running the Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Half-Marathon in North Carolina. By June, she struggled for breath while ascending stairs.

The Cape St. Claire resident and mother of two went to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she got the diagnosis: Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells.

Since then, it’s been a long road to recovery for Pitchforth, who is encouraging people to attend a blood drive and swabbing event on June 28, from 2:00pm to 7:30pm at the Cape St. Claire Clubhouse.

By participating, individuals can enter the bone marrow donor registry, potentially saving a life the way Pitchforth’s donor did for her.

Upon getting her diagnosis, Pitchforth underwent chemotherapy for two or three months. After trying a trial drug because it didn’t have the same side effects as chemotherapy, she went into remission in September 2016. She received her bone marrow transplant in February 2017.

“Both with the chemotherapy and after, I had extreme nausea and extreme fatigue,” Pitchforth said. “After the transplant, my energy was bad. I was taking immunosuppressant drugs. I could only take the drugs at certain times and I could only eat at certain times, because I had to plan around the drugs.”

She even had to wear a N95 mask, which covers the mouth and nose, protecting the wearer from breathing in small particles. “I was afraid to catch something, but also I got a lot of strange looks when I was out in public, so it made me self-conscious,” she recalled.

The complications didn’t stop there. She said it took nearly a year to regain her memory and full cognitive function.

“At times, I was so nauseated throwing up and incapacitated,” said Pitchforth, explaining that she also experienced meningitis and pneumonia. “Sometimes I was completely down and out.”

Inspired by Pitchforth’s story, the Cape St. Claire Elementary human relations committee raised $2,500 during a Pennies for Patients fundraiser. Pitchforth has two children at Cape St. Claire Elementary, Adelyn in second grade and Ella in fifth.

“Each year, Cape St. Claire’s human relations committee choses a charity to support,” said Heather Bachman, a school counselor. “Because we feel it is also important to support our school community members, we chose the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Pennies for Patients campaign.”

Asked about the support, Pitchforth emphasized, “It just speaks to this community, people knowing the story.”

Part of that community helping her was her family. Just before she was diagnosed, Pitchforth learned that her mother also had cancer. During that time, Pitchforth’s father was tending to her mother, so she relied on her father-in-law to drive her to appointments at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Her best friend, a resident of New Jersey, trekked south every other week to stay with Pitchforth.

Working in the health industry as a physical therapist, she never expected to get ALL. With the June 28 event at Cape St. Claire Clubhouse, she hopes to help others who are unexpectedly confronted with blood diseases or immunodeficiency disorders.

“I required 25 pints of blood through all of this, so I felt compelled to give back,” she said. “… It was a complete stranger who did this for me. I want to help everyone who is struggling with blood cancers. I never thought this would happen to me.”

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