When Humboldt High School senior Ashlyn Clark stepped up to bat and knocked a pitch hard, her mother knew it would be a home run. "I knew it was gone as soon as she hit it," Kristi says. But she only saw her daughter round first base. After that, tears made it impossible to see. Kristi wasn't the only one. "I have no idea what the next batter did, since I had so many tears in my eyes," Ashlyn's coach Doug Van Pelt tells KCCI-TV. "Just a special, special moment for everyone involved."
The hit — Ashlyn's first home run, hit on her team's Senior Night — would have been a special moment under normal circumstances. What made it exponentially more so is that it came while Ashlyn is undergoing cancer treatment. Just two months earlier, she'd been diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin's lymphoma. "When they told me it was probably lymphoma, I didn't know what that meant," Ashlyn tells us. "Then they threw the big 'C' word at me." That she understood.
The diagnosis came after months of increasingly troubling symptoms. First there was stomach pain. A rash. Night sweats. Exhaustion. "We doctored, and they always had an answer," Kristi tells us. It was a stomach ulcer. Eczema. Too little sleep. But none of the treatments worked, and new symptoms continued to pop up. By April, Ashlyn was vomiting every time she ate. Even brushing her teeth made her heave.
At her graduation party on May 5, Ashlyn fasted so she wouldn't get sick. Two days later, a CT scan would finally reveal the reason for her symptoms. Doctors immediately referred Ashlyn to Mayo Clinic, where Carola Arndt, M.D., laid out a treatment plan that included six rounds of chemotherapy. "Treatment is just another task on my to-do list," says Ashlyn, who has continued to join her team on the softball field whenever she's felt well enough. "I don't want to be Ashlyn with cancer. I don't want this to define me."
The diagnosis may not define her, but Ashlyn's reaction says a great deal about the 18-year-old. Her positive attitude, determination and faith have inspired people in her Iowa hometown and beyond. Thousands came out for Ashlyn's Night at the Ballpark, a fundraiser hosted by her softball team. Neighboring communities have also held fundraisers. And she's even gained a famous fan — Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester. After Ashlyn's home run, Lester tweeted an invitation: "Congratulations Ashlyn! How about you and your family come to Wrigley for a game to celebrate! And if it's not too much to ask, maybe you could sign a ball for me?" She did just that on July 17, and got Lester — a cancer survivor himself — to return the favor. "It just shows you how great people are," Ashlyn tells WHO-TV of the experience.
That greatness, Kristi says, extends to another team: the people caring for Ashlyn at Mayo Clinic. "Mayo is a very special place," Kristi says. "We had a doctor ask to pray with us and tell us that Ashlyn is going to be the ripple effect in our community. Another doctor asked Ashlyn what her favorite animal was, and when she woke up from surgery he'd cut her bandage in that shape. He didn't write that in her chart, he remembered it. Dr. Arndt oozes knowledge, but communicates at our level. And you can see her compassion. I have no doubt in my mind that Ashlyn is getting the best care possible."
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