Colon cancer survivor uses rubber ducks to boost awareness
Amanda Lee Brink
Imagine this: a rubber duck, perched on a vehicle in a parking lot, with a message that could save lives.
It's not your typical beginning to a cancer story, but then again, Ashley Pedro’s colon cancer story is anything but typical.
Ashley’s colon cancer symptoms
Ashley grappled with anemia throughout her 20s and early 30s. Iron supplements gave her temporary relief, but the anemia always returned.
"No one took it seriously until I decided to join the military," she recalls.
It was a perceptive medical director who urged her to investigate when anemia prevented her from enlisting in the Air National Guard during the summer of 2020.
“I always wanted to join the military because a lot of my family members did,” Ashley says. “So, it was heartbreaking when I was told I couldn’t, due to a medical issue.”
A colon cancer diagnosis
Ashley’s primary care provider referred her to a hematologist. He prescribed intravenous iron infusions and scheduled Ashley for a colonoscopy. But before the procedure could be done, Ashley’s doctor found a mass in her colon, prompting additional diagnostic imaging. She was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer with enlarged lymph nodes, and tumors in both her colon and liver.
Ashley still recalls the shock she felt when she heard the results. The doctor recommended surgery to decrease her risk of an obstruction.
“I didn’t hear anything after 'stage IV colon cancer' and 'surgery,'” she says. Her husband, Josh, expressed disbelief as well, noting that colon cancer ran in his family, not Ashley's.
Ashley’s colon cancer treatment
After coming to grips with the news, Ashley underwent a partial colectomy to remove the primary tumor in her colon in March 2021. That was followed by another surgery in July 2021 to remove the mass in her liver. She had chemotherapy after both surgeries.
Imaging revealed that the cancer had returned in March 2022. At that point, Ashley decided to seek treatment at MD Anderson.
“When we met Dr. Naing and his team, they gave me hope," she says. “They told me there was so much research going on and so many different trials that we could look into.”
Ashley enrolled in two different clinical trials at MD Anderson. One was to target a particular mutation in her cancer, while the other was exploring shutting down the activity of a gene that causes tumor growth.
Raising awareness about colon cancer
After Ashley became an ambassador for a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping other colon cancer patients, she discovered people aren’t always aware of clinical trials that could benefit them.
To raise awareness around this issue, Ashley began distributing small rubber ducks as she went about her daily life, in the spirit of an old children’s game called “duck, duck, goose.” She’d seen that car enthusiasts often leave rubber ducks on the same makes and models as their own, to celebrate their shared fondness for a particular vehicle and as a random act of kindness to bring smiles to the faces of their owners.
Ashley wanted to take this idea to the next level. She carries around her rubber ducks, each bearing a tag with a fact about colon cancer and a QR code leading to her website so they can learn more about colon cancer and clinical trials.
Ashley’s goal is to make sure people know that:
Colon cancer is preventable with appropriate screening.
Colon cancer affects even younger individuals.
"It is super important to know your family history and get screened when appropriate," she says. “ And there is so much research going on. Get that second opinion.”
Ashley’s dream is to see her rubber ducks make a mark in at least 33 states, symbolizing the age at which she received her cancer diagnosis. She’s already heard from people in 14.