Summit County comes together and sings Christmas carols for cancer-stricken SHS student Taylor Ash
When Taylor Ash felt pain in her calf, the specter of cancer was already on her mind. Ash, a 16-year-old junior at Summit High, plays hockey for SHS and Aspen High in the winter and plays soccer for Vail Valley in the summer. She remembered how the year before, the sister of one of her soccer teammates was diagnosed with cancer after experiencing the same pain in her calf.
So when the diagnosis came that she had osteosarcoma — bone cancer — in her fibula near her ankle, the specter came alive; the nightmare became real. This young, vibrant woman was now pushed into an arena for the fight of her life.
Ash started receiving treatment at the Children’s Hospital in Denver over Autumn. Last week, she had surgery to remove the tumor and a portion of her fibula near her ankle to prevent the cancer’s spread. Her doctors told her that the fibula isn’t a weight-bearing bone, and removing a piece of it wouldn’t be a big deal. She will probably be playing soccer again. And by the surgeon carefully avoiding her nerves, she also avoided foot drop — a condition where there is little strength and feeling to bend the toe down.
Regardless of the positive prognosis, Ash still had to go through chemotherapy to ensure all the remaining cancer cells were dead. She has already gone through one round of chemo, and has four more rounds of five-week treatments to go. She can’t go to school, since chemo compromises the immune system. Being around other kids in the winter would almost certainly make her very sick. She would have to fight this at home, with her family. But Ash missed school, missed her friends, missed her sports.
To cheer her up, give her and her family support and to let her know that the entire community was behind her, friends and teachers at SHS banded together and decided to give Ash “Weeks of Love” to help her with her recovery. Sign-up sheets were passed around and volunteers immediately signed up to give her cheer and support through this painful process. A social media campaign was started with the hashtag “TaylorKicksAsh” to let people know that she was loved and that they were rooting her on.
Polly ReQua, a Summit Daily employee, heard about the mission to lift Ash’s spirits and signed up to provide a week of cheer this past week. ReQua thought a really nice thing to do would be to get people to go and surprise Ash at her home on Thursday evening with Christmas carols.
Caroline Hesford, the choir teacher for Summit middle and high schools, had Ash as a student two years prior. After ReQua approached her with the the idea, Hesford leapt at the opportunity.
“I love Taylor,” Hesford said. “She’s an amazing human being; she was just one of the students who excelled and put forth a lot of energy. She’s a genuinely good person, so I said we want to do it.”
Hesford asked her choir if they wanted to volunteer.
“A third of the choir wanted to do it,” she said. “It was totally voluntary, and they went to sing to her out of the blue on a cold night.”
Over a dozen choir members, friends and well-wishers gathered outside her family’s home in Breckenridge and began singing carols, including “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Silent Night” and “Jingle Bells.”
When Ash heard the songs, she went to her front door and peeked out. Wearing a hat and coat, Ash couldn’t go out to sing along to avoid getting sick. But standing in her doorway, she could not be more thankful for all the support her friends and community were giving her.
“It’s been amazing,” Ash said, as tears flowed down her cheeks, deeply touched as her emotions bubbled up. “Everybody wanted to cook us dinner and gave us food to eat while we were down at the hospital, and doing whatever I wanted, even if it meant giving a little space. The community has been so supportive and so amazing.”
Hesford said that she, too, is overwhelmed by how Breckenridge and the rest of Summit County stepped up to help Ash get through these tough times.
“We have a super strong community, especially at the high school,” Hesford said. “This is what the holidays are all about. Our teachers and students, we create these bonds for life. We are all about giving in this community, out of joy of our hearts. I love that girl so much and she’s going through so much. She’s a trooper.”
Ash still has a few long months to go. She has four more rounds of chemo, which will go well into April. Anyone wishing to sign up and volunteer to give Ash a week of love or find another way to support her and her family, contact Summit High School directly and they will guide you to the right place.
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