Nurse makes each day count as cancer affects her family
Ashley Martinez will never forget the day her in-laws celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Not only was it a major milestone for her family to celebrate, it was also an opportunity to reflect on the incredible gift of time from MD Anderson. That’s because her father-in-law was diagnosed with metastatic renal cell cancer almost exactly a year earlier in August 2020.
As an advanced practice provider supervisor in Breast Medical Oncology at MD Anderson, Martinez experiences the highs and lows of cancer through her patients. She’s gained new perspective and developed an even stronger connection to MD Anderson’s mission as she experiences cancer’s impact on her own family.
“MD Anderson has given us hope, education, treatment and time,” says Martinez. “Being an APRN, I know what it’s like to give my patients those things, and I realized the full impact of MD Anderson’s commitment to end cancer when these things were given to my own family.”
Caring for patients during their most vulnerable moments
Born and raised in Houston, Martinez comes from a family of nurses. Her mother, Myrna Martinez, has been a nurse at MD Anderson for over 22 years, and her two sisters are nurses as well.
Martinez joined MD Anderson in 2012, first as a clinical nurse to breast cancer patients. As someone who thrives on a challenge, she continued her education, becoming a family nurse practitioner to breast cancer patients, then an APP supervisor. She developed an interest in treating and supporting pregnant cancer patients after connecting in clinic with Jennifer Litton, M.D., vice president of clinical research.
Litton has been a great mentor to Martinez, who is currently pursuing her Ph.D. and wants to contribute to the current literature on pregnancy-associated breast cancer.
“There’s not a lot of education and awareness surrounding this topic,” Martinez says. “Many of my patients tell me they get strange looks while sitting in the waiting room with a bald head and big belly. A lot of people are surprised to find out chemotherapy can be safe during pregnancy.”
Martinez enjoys having close relationships with her patients. She shares in their joy when their babies are born healthy – oftentimes surprising everyone with a full head of hair! – and is there to provide comfort and support in challenging situations, such as when a patient is faced with a metastatic diagnosis.
“I get to witness strength in these women at the most vulnerable moments in their lives,” she says. “I have laughed with them and cried with them. I know I have touched their lives and they have undoubtedly touched mine.”
MD Anderson has given her family more time
On Aug. 13, 2021, Martinez snapped a picture of her in-laws smiling and wearing matching 50th anniversary t-shirts as they got ready to head to an appointment at MD Anderson The Woodlands.
Martinez says all the staff commented on their anniversary shirts and made her family feel extra special.
She acknowledges that while visitor restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have been challenging, the care has been seamless, and her family understands the importance of MD Anderson’s safety protocols . Since her father-in-law’s diagnosis a year ago, there have been ups and downs, including two hospital admissions and several interventions. Most important, there have been many special memories made and time spent together.
“The fact that my family got to be together last Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year with my father-in-law is so incredible,” she says. “We still don’t know what the future holds for him, but we are making each day count.”
“Her greatest aspiration”
Martinez often reflects on her patients and close family members who have had cancer and knows that nursing at MD Anderson is not just her purpose; it is her greatest aspiration. Her passion for her work and dedication to patients was recognized when she was recently selected as a finalist for the 2020 Brown Foundation Excellence in Oncology Nursing Award.
“I wake up every morning with the intent to be my best self for my patients and colleagues at the greatest cancer hospital in the world – and that is a privilege and an honor,” she says.