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Stephens City kids going Hollywood

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David Jr. and Courtney Ashby visited with Mickey and Minnie Mouse during a 2009 Make-A-Wish Foundation trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Courtesy photo

Make-A-Wish Foundation comes through for teen fighting cancer, brother who beat it

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

STEPHENS CITY -- Courtney Ashby, 16, wants to see a celebrity and go to Rodeo Drive, and she might be able to do that this week, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Virginia. Hers is one of the 250 wishes that will be granted by the foundation in Virginia alone this year, said President and CEO Karen Webb.

Courtney's mother, Tracey Ashby, referred her daughter to the organization in March, only four months after she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer -- sarcoma.

Courtney felt a lump in her chest and doctors confirmed her fears. In February, the family discovered the lump was an undifferentiated sarcoma. After two surgeries and numerous visits to the University of Virginia Children's Hospital, representatives from the Make-A-Wish Foundation showed up at the Ashbys' doorstep in Stephens City.

"They came out to ask what [Courtney's] wish would be," Mrs. Ashby said. The family left Thursday morning at 5 a.m. by limo to start their all-expenses-paid, week-long vacation in Hollywood.

This wasn't the first time the family experienced the foundation's generosity or the pain of life-threatening illness.

Tracey and David Ashby's son, David Ashby Jr., was diagnosed with a rare kidney cancer called Wilms tumor in 2007, when he was 7.

"It was a wake-up call," Mrs. Ashby said. "Before then, I didn't really think about my children getting sick. I never thought about any serious illness like that. Taking them and watching them get CT scans and IVs, it's a wake-up call that every day is precious and you're never guaranteed the next."

After having his right kidney removed and losing his hair in chemotherapy, David beat the cancer. Now 11, he wants to play football but isn't allowed to participate in contact sports. He can play baseball, however, and his goal is to become a professional baseball player.

In 2009, after David went into remission, his family took their first Make-A-Wish trip. It was David's choice, and he wanted to go to Disney World.

"I especially liked the rides," David said, adding that he believed the trip helped him recuperate. "I'd like to say thank you for all the time [Make-A-Wish] put in with it."

His father agreed that the trip was beneficial to David's health.

"After going through what [David] went through with all the treatments, it's really hard to put in words what it does," his father said. "It really boosts him up and it gives him confidence. He kind of feels like he's back in control. ... It gave him an opportunity to think about something else besides being sick in the hospital all the time."

His father said there was no way the family would have been able to take these vacations if it weren't for the organization, which receives 100 percent of its funding from donations.

The average cost of a wish is about $8,000, according to Webb.

"For us, it becomes a catch-up game with ... hospital bills," Ashby said. "You spend so much time in the hospital that you don't really get to work. Vacation really isn't even an option."

But it's definitely been therapy for the family, Mrs. Ashby said.

"After the Florida trip that we took, I saw a difference in David and Courtney," she said, adding that they stayed at Give Kids the World, a resort near Disney World where families of children with life-threatening illnesses stay free of charge. "That time we got to spend together not worrying about anything and having fun was great."

Although Courtney missed a lot of school during her bout with cancer, she still managed to stay in honors classes and earn a 3.2 GPA for the year, her mother noted.

Mrs. Ashby repeatedly spoke of her pride in her children. She believes their positive attitudes helped them to fight cancer.

"They both have really good spirits," she said. "They don't let anything get them down. ... They're fighters."

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