The following press release was written by Paul O'Rear and sent to local, regional, and national media outlets.
FOR RELEASE OCTOBER 4, 2001
TEXAS TEEN WITH CANCER TO CARRY OLYMPIC TORCH
Ashley O'Rear, a 14-year-old girl from Waxahachie, Texas, thought she had beaten the cancer monster for good.
Ashley was almost ten years old when she was originally diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor back in March 1997. Shortly after the diagnosis, she underwent brain surgery at Children's Medical Center in Dallas where doctors successfully removed about 95% of the golf-ball-sized tumor. Following her recovery from surgery, Ashley's family traveled to St. Paul Hospital in Dallas five days a week for six weeks for Ashley to receive intense radiation therapy to her head and spine.
Then came the chemotherapy. For about a year-and-a-half, Ashley discovered why people sometimes say that "the cure is worse than the disease". Her little body was ravaged by four very powerful cancer-fighting drugs administered repeatedly over the fifteen-month period. Her parents, Paul and Susan O'Rear, watched helplessly as the drugs that were designed to kill the cancer nearly killed their precious daughter.
Through it all, Ashley remained determined. She refused to give up hope. She continued to fight, and she resolved to ultimately proclaim victory over her unseen adversary called cancer. By summer's end 1998, about a year-and-a-half after her battle had begun, victory seemed to be hers. She had survived both the disease and the treatments, and on Saturday, August 8, 1998, Ashley's family threw her a huge "No More Chemo" Party. The thrill of victory could almost be tasted!
Throughout Ashley's treatments, her father Paul kept an online journal detailing the day-to-day struggles, setbacks, triumphs, joys, frustrations, and serendepities of their family's journey through the horrendous world of pediatric cancer. That journal remains posted online at http://www.cancerkids.org/ashley/.
As time passed, and the horrible days of cancer treatments retreated further and further into the distant past, each day seemed to bring renewed hope. Ashley began to regain much of her strength and stamina. Life was returning to normal. Each successive MRI showed the same marvelous results -- no cancer! Complete and permanent victory seemed more and more certain with each passing day ...
... until September 11, 2001.
On the same day that international terrorists were waging their attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Ashley and her family were spending the day back at Children's Medical Center in Dallas. Ashley had been experiencing some symptoms that had her parents worried. One of Ashley's doctors had made arrangements for a CT scan to be performed "just to make sure". The CT scan showed "a slight abnormality", so an MRI was ordered, and was performed late that afternoon. By the time the MRI had been completed, it was too late in the evening for it to be analyzed. The O'Rears drove back home to Waxahachie and waited.
Early Wednesday morning, September 12, the phone rang. Ashley's Dad nervously picked up the receiver, and was greeted by the hesitant voice of the oncologist who had read the MRI. "The MRI does show a significant difference from her last MRI in April," the doctor said. "It looks like the cancer is back." The O'Rears were devastated. After regaining their composure, they awakened Ashley to tell her the grim news. The journey now begins again.
Through it all, Ashley has been, and continues to be, a source of inspiration to countless other people who are facing their own difficult struggles. During Ashley's first battle, one lady e-mailed Paul to let him know how Ashley had helped her. She had been keeping up with Ashley's progress through Paul's online journal, and had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. As she faced the scary reality of her own cancer diagnosis and the inevitable treatments, she kept telling herself, "If Ashley can do it, then I can too." She faced her own nightmare with renewed courage and faith, because of Ashley.
Earlier this year, Ashley's story also caught the attention of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Responding to a Public Service Announcement he had heard on a Dallas radio station, Paul submitted a short narrative to the committee, nominating Ashley to be one of the torchbearers who would carry the Olympic Flame on its journey to the winter games. In July, an e-mail arrived from Mitt Romney, President and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, addressed to Ashley.
The message read, in part, "For the last two months, community judging panels across America have been reading tens of thousands of stories, submitted by people from all walks of life who want to honor someone who has been a source of personal inspiration in their lives. The panels' task has been to choose a few special people who are the light of inspiration in our nation to serve as torchbearers for the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Torch Relay."
"On behalf of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, and our presenting sponsors Coca-Cola and Chevrolet, it is my privilege to inform you that you have been selected by our judges as a potential torchbearer to be honored in the Olympic Torch Relay. I would personally like to invite you to help carry the Olympic Flame as it travels across America. Congratulations!"
Ashley accepted the invitation. On December 12, Ashley will carry the Olympic Flame through Dallas, Arlington, or Fort Worth, accompanied by her father Paul, on one segment of the Flame's historic journey.
"When I first opened the e-mail and began to read it, I couldn't believe it," Paul said. "I quickly printed it and took it into the living room to share the exciting news with Ashley and Susan and Justin. In the e-mail, they asked us not to tell anyone outside of our immediately family until after the Olympic Committee made the official announcement. That was not an easy secret to keep!"
Paul added, "When I nominated Ashley, we thought she had conquered her cancer for good. Now that her tumors have returned and she is once again in a battle for her life, the significance of her carrying the torch as an inspiration to others takes on a whole new level of meaning." The O'Rears will find out the exact time and location of Ashley's relay segment sometime in late November.
# # #
For further reading concerning Ashley's Story, you may visit:
For a photograph of Ashley, visit:
Permission is hereby granted for the publication of above-referenced photograph of Ashley O'Rear in conjunction with this press release.