Torchbearer's primary relay is life, then Olympics

RANDY ELIGROTH / Staff Photographer
Ashley O'Rear of Waxahachie is fighting cancer a second time. "I've beaten this before, and I will do it again," Ashley said. She is among more than 200 North Texans selected to carry the Olympic torch when it passes through the area in December.
Girl thinking of the long run

14-year-old battling cancer honored with role in 2002 Games

Staff Writer

     Laughter bubbled up from Ashley O'Rear's delicate frame as she rested on her hospital bed at Children's Medical Center.
     Whether she is pestering her little brother or enduring his jests, Ashley looks for humor in every situation, even the return of the cancer that has ravished her body.
     She thought she had beaten the disease once. That success won her the honor of carrying the Olympic torch on its journey to the Salt Lake City 2002 Games. But now she's combating cancer again -- after a few years of living with no signs of the disease.
     "I've beaten this before, and I will do it again," the 14-year-old said.
     Ashley is one of more than 200 North Texans selected to be Olympic torchbearers. The Waxahachie resident said she is looking forward to the torch relay when it passes through the Dallas-Fort Worth area in December.
     The O'Rear family kept the honor a secret from friends and family members from mid-July through early October.
     Before she could talk about the privilege of being a torchbearer, Ashley's new cancer was diagnosed.
     Paul O'Rear, Ashley's father, said her spirit and strength continue to amaze him.
     "She doesn't let ... [cancer] get her down very often," he said. "Ashley is just so tough."

     She had a brain tumor diagnosed in 1997 after a bout of nausea, double vision, and temporary blindness. She was 9 years old at the time.
     After surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment to destroy the tumor, which was attached to the brain stem, it appeared that Ashley had beaten the disease, Mr. O'Rear said.
     "We really thought that it was gone, that she had beaten it for good," he said. "I was completely confident that she had beaten this thing. ... [The cancer's return] completely caught us by surprise."
     Through it all, Ashley has been the one keeping her mother, father, and younger brother, Justin, in good spirits with jokes and her reactions to everyday events.
     When dealing with her first bout of cancer, the O'Rears were at church when a member asked everyone to pray for Ashley.
     She looked quizically at her father and said: "What is he talking about? I'm not sick. I've just got a brain tumor."
     While sitting on her hospital bed on a recent visit, Ashley's mother, Susan O'Rear, rubbed the girl's back while Justin, 12, played with the stuffed animals in the room and ate candy.
     As she complained about Justin, Ashley seemed like any other teenager. Only her nearly bald head and little girl's body reveal her illness.
     She admits that visits to the hospital are difficult. Nurses and technicians check her blood pressure and provide medicine throughout the night, so she does not get much sleep.
     She looks forward to those times when she is well enough to go shopping, she said.
     One of her favorite spots is the Briar Patch, a gift shop in Waxahachie that sells stuffed animals. Ashley searches through the plush animals and picks out her favorites, which are placed in a bag in a back room. Customers who know Ashley use her bag of plush animals as a registry to buy gifts for her.
     "I'm amazed by her strength and the fact that she can carry on at this age," said Kirsti Brown, the owner of the Briar Patch. "A lot of adults couldn't handle it that well, especially when it came back."
     Mr. O'Rear has maintained a website with updates on Ashley's condition for relatives, friends, and other concerned people. Since discovering the return of cancer, he has started a second site labeled, "The sequel." Those websites are and
     Over the years people have contacted the O'Rears about Ashley. One woman in California e-mailed the family to say she had been praying for Ashley and recently discovered that she had breast cancer, Mr. O'Rear said. The woman wrote that if Ashley could be strong, so could she, Mr. O'Rear said.
     "It blows my mind how many people she has touched with her story," he said.
     The O'Rears credit their faith in God with helping them persevere.
     "I wouldn't wish this on anyone, but we believe in God very much. Faith is a very important part of our lives," Mr. O'Rear said.
     Ashley agreed.
     "I believe in God. He will help us. With him I can do this," she said.
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