LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ)- If you celebrated this Mother’s Day surrounded by healthy family, you probably know you’re truly blessed.
Just last year, two Louisville moms had to spend the day in a hospital, putting on brave faces as their daughter fought cancer.
Like many six-year-olds, Ashtyn Johnson is shy at first, but put her with her mos and out comes a funny, spunky, mighty little girl.
“She’s just a joy,” Kiara Richardson said.
“To be honest, when she walks in the room, she brightens it up,” Brittney Richardson added.
Ashtyn loves tumbling. She’s a competitive cheerleader and she plays softball too.
Towards the end of the last school year, though, she was getting sick a lot.
“Intermittent headaches, nausea, vomiting,” Brittney said.
After about a month, yet another call came to come pick Ashtyn up early from school. Kiara had had enough.
The family ended up in the Emergency Room.
That’s where an MRI showed a tumor.
“April 9th, 2018 was the day our lives changed forever,” Brittney said.
“I just was like i want my baby. I wanted to hold her. I wanted her back and I just was like how, why did this happen to her? What did I do so wrong for her to have to go through something like this…hearing that a mass is on a brain instantly makes you think that that’s the end of it,” Kiara said.
It was far from the end, though. It was just the beginning, really.
Two days later, Ashtyn had her first brain surgery.
“I explained to her she had a sick spot, a boo boo in her brain,” Kiara said.
After surgery, the family learned it was a form of medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor among kids, according to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which Kiara remembered from commercials.
“Kiara was like, ‘We’re going to St. Jude,’ like no thought, no second guessing,” Brittney remembered.
Kiara was right. Norton Children’s didn’t feel comfortable treating Ashtyn’s cancer.
The family had to find a way to leave behind work, their dog, and their older daughter to head to Memphis.
“The fact that we walked in at 10 p.m. and they knew us by name was breathtaking,” Brittney said.
The Richardsons spent more than half a year at St. Jude as Ashtyn underwent a second surgery, radiation, and chemo.
“I literally saw my baby at her very lowest points where she did not look like she even wanted to wake up another day where she didn’t want to eat and she had lost so much weight to the point I was giving her a bath one day and I just started crying because I could literally see every single bone down her spine,” Kiara said.
St. Jude was there to ease worries.
The whole time, just like every family at the hospital, they never had to pay a bill.
They didn’t have to worry about paying for housing, food, or travel.
They were just able to focus on Ashtyn.
Finally, just in time for Christmas, they got to go home with a healthy kid.
“It’s an emotional toll and it’s stressful and you worry, but you try to remain faithful and to get to the point where someone tells you she’s done with treatment, I can’t even, I can’t put into words the way I felt in that moment,” Brittney said.
Now, Ashtyn is back to school, back to tumbling and softball. She’s even started dance.
This spring, a year after Ashtyn’s diagnosis, the Richardsons came from Louisville to see the St. Jude dream home in Lexington.
Every $100 ticket purchased to win it helps families at St. Jude so they too can focus all their attention on healing because no parent plans this.
“I never ever imagined that I was going to be there,” Kiara said.
Neither did Brittney when every month for the last ten years she sent money to St. Jude, never knowing her own daughter would one day need its help.
“We say all the time, they gave our baby a second life, a second chance at this thing and we didn’t have to say bye to her at five,” Brittney said.
You, too, could help just by buying a raffle ticket.
“You’ll win something that is amazing, but think of it more than just donating to win a house or win something. You’re literally donating to save a life and because of donations like that, our daughter has a life,” Brittney said.