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Diagnosed with Cancer at 32 Weeks Pregnant

Shannon Woodland - 700 Club Producer

Firefighter Dave and his wife, Ashley, married in 2004 with dreams of starting a family and building a life together.  Their whole world changed one day when Ashley noticed a knot on her neck.

“Very tiny,” Ashley recalls. “And my immediate thought was a lymph node and I thought, ‘Oh great, I'm getting sick.’"

Doctors prescribed antibiotics, which seemed to work, but when she got pregnant a month later, the knot returned.

“He put me on another round of antibiotics and again, the knot seemed to respond to that,” said Ashley. “It shrunk back down, but at eight months, when I was eight months pregnant, it grew like violently.  It got really big.”

It also became painful. So, her doctor did a biopsy as a precaution.  Ashley got a call from her doctor the next day.

“The very first thing he asked me, he said, ‘is David with you?’" Ashley recalled. “And instantly I knew then. He said, ‘It's malignant.’”

Her husband Dave said, “But then just a whirlwind of emotions, hard to even explain, just everything from anger to fear to disbelief. My wife and my unborn child here, this is my whole world.  And now suddenly that's just turned upside-down.”

Surgery was scheduled immediately to remove the mass, but first, their son needed to be delivered.  Ashley’s primary concern was for her unborn baby, especially his underdeveloped lungs.

“And I told her no, we’re not delivering,” Ashley said.  “I said, ‘He's only 32 weeks.’ and I said, ‘He's not ready.  He's way far from ready.’ And she tried to calm me down and assure me, she said, ‘He has to be delivered. We have to deliver him in order to treat you.’"

Much to the medical staff’s surprise, Harley, now 33 weeks old, came into the world not only breathing but screaming and kicking.

Ashley said, “I always say, that was our first miracle.  That was our first prayer answered and the first thing we saw God really do.”

Harley’s birth was a victory, but the Hallfords knew they were going to need more than one miracle for his mother to survive.

Four days after Harley’s birth, Ashley woke up from surgery.  She and Dave were relieved to learn that her tumor, now the size of a softball, had been removed successfully.

Dave thought, “After she recovers, we'll get back to normal with the new baby, she can be a mom, you know, thinking everything's going to be okay.  My wife's going to be okay.”

Five weeks later, while at the hospital caring for Harley who was very sick with a respiratory illness, Ashley began seeing double. Dr. Debra Miller ordered CT scans and found the cancer had spread.

 “At that point she was stage IV,” Dr. Miller said. “So, she had developed metastases to the lungs and along the perineural line up into the cavernous sinus in the brain.”

Ashley said, “And I just thought, I thought, ‘I’m going to die.’”

“Yeah, it got bad quick, you know, but I never felt like God left me,” Dave told. “But I knew this was – this was bad.  This is real bad.  And all I could do was just – I remember laying in bed crying and praying, and I don't even know what I prayed, I was just pleading with God to help in this situation.”

Ashley started a regime of chemotherapy and radiation, but her scans showed the tumors growing and multiplying.
 
“And the actual report says innumerable tumors present,” Ashley remembers.

Dr. Miller then changed Ashley’s treatment, but didn’t offer much hope for success.

“Even before we found the metastases, the prognosis was poor,” Dr. Miller stated. “We knew that the chances were this would recur and that, at that time, if you recur you have distant disease, it's terminal.”

Dave struggled with his faith as he watched his wife suffering.

Dave said, “And up until this point I’d just been pleading with God, almost arguing with, I felt like, with God.  Just, you know, ‘Please heal Ashley.  Please heal her.’ You know?  ‘Please take this cancer away.’”

“I can remember,” Ashley said, “having to literally crawl on my hands and knees up my stairs to get to the bathroom or to my bedroom, because I could not walk it hurt so bad.”

Meanwhile the Hallford’s church started fasting and praying daily for Ashley’s healing.

“I remember praying one day,” Dave said, “‘Lord, whatever your will is,’ I said, ‘that's what I want.’  So, if it's for Ashley not to make it, I prayed that she wouldn’t be in a lot of pain. But I remember praying that.”

Through tears Dave recalled, “And I remember sitting here and I felt like I could literally feel God hugging me.  And I'd never felt that before. I think during that prayer, I think that's probably the closest I’ve ever been to the Lord, ‘cause I could literally feel arms wrap around me.  And I remember, almost like I can hear Him say, ‘it's going to be okay.  She's going to be okay.’”

After a month of prayer, Ashley went back in for more scans.  

“And on that scan, I still had all the tumors, but there was some shrinkage on some of them,” Ashley said. “Some of them had shrunk a little bit, and that was the very first scan that we saw anything positive.”

Just four months later, Ashley was in remission. Dr. Miller was amazed.

“Shocked,” Dr. Miller exclaimed, “I mean, ecstatic, but with her prognosis I was concerned that she would not get a response.”

Ashley has remained cancer free since 2009.

Dr. Miller said, “I had an older partner ask me, he says, ‘so you are telling me you cured this young woman of this terminal cancer?’ I said, ‘no, sir, I’m not telling you that. It was likely divine intervention and then God uses his tools in order to affect her cure.’ But I said, I’m not so arrogant to think that it was me.’”

Fertility specialists told the Hallfords that they could never have more children, but Harley prayed anyway.

“I’d wake up at breakfast, lunch, supper and before I went to bed, I would say a prayer and I would always pray for a sister,” young Harley said.

Then in February of 2012, Ashley got a call from her doctor about a routine blood test.

“She says, ‘Ashley, you – something's wrong with your lab work,’ Ashley told, “and I said, ‘what?’ she said, ‘it says you're pregnant.’"

After a trouble-free pregnancy, Grace was born.  She was joined by Eli five years later.  The Hallfords say they know firsthand that prayer changes everything.

“Everyday things I give it to God, give it to Him,” Dave said. “And I know, from my past experience with the Lord, that He's going to take care of things, you know, I don't have to worry about it.”

“But now when somebody says, ‘Will you pray for me?’ I really try to take that to heart,” Ashley said with a smile. “Because I think back to all the people who prayed for me and the outcome we saw of that and how God answered that prayer, and it really changed how I pray for people.”

Check out Ashley's Facebook page, and her website to see information about thier upcoming book.

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