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Facing the impossible: Stage 4 melanoma survivor shares why she rides in LOWVELO

Jennifer Wilson     |

July 26, 2023

When Ashley Mahoney told her husband she was considering signing up to ride the 20-mile course during LOWVELO23, he looked at her, surprised and slightly concerned.

“He asked, ‘Well…are you sure? When was the last time you rode a bike?’” Ashley said, laughing.

“I guess he’s right; I don’t really ride. Actually, I think I’m going to have to borrow one of your bikes!”

For most beginners to biking, the idea of riding 20 miles would seem daunting, or even impossible. But after beating stage 4 melanoma, Ashley is an expert at overcoming challenges and laughing in the face of impossible.

couple with three young kids
Photos provided

When Ashley was in high school in the early 2000s, she, like many people at that time, frequented tanning salons. She became “addicted” to the entire experience of indoor tanning, she said, and loved the way she looked with bronzed skin. Her hobby turned into a career, as she went on to work at a tanning salon for almost 10 years, eventually becoming a manager.

During that time, the regular use of tanning beds was normal for many young girls and women — this was before spray tans and at-home tanning products were commonplace. Ashley remembers recruiting all her friends to tan alongside her. Some were even hired at the salon. While Ashley knew about the dangers of tanning outside and wore sunscreen regularly while at the beach or pool in her home state of Florida, she did not consider tanning salons dangerous.

“To work at the salon, I had to go to training. I want to say they did them quarterly. I had to learn all the new ‘science’ behind the UV rays and then the lotion products. And so, they would teach us that the UV rays (in the tanning bed) did not penetrate the second layer of the skin. That it was not possible to get cancer,” she said. “Not possible.”

Ashley believed what she was told by her company. She shared with both her friends and customers that indoor tanning was safe, because that’s what she was taught. In college, she even wrote papers on the safety of indoor tanning, based on the materials her company provided to her.

Then everything changed.

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In the fall of 2013, while living in New Hampshire, Ashley noticed a large spot on her lower back that she thought was a freckle or mole. But when the spot started to grow rapidly, she decided to see her dermatologist for a biopsy. The result? Melanoma.

At that point, she still didn’t understand the enormity of her diagnosis. The spot was removed, but the disease had already spread to her lymph nodes, so she was quickly scheduled for a surgery to remove the cancerous nodes. A second surgery came only a week later when another affected lymph node was found. And after another evaluation, she had cancerous masses removed from throughout her stomach and pelvis.

“It was the worst pain I’d ever been in,” Ashley said.

She had almost no time to recover from the many surgeries before it was recommended that, due to the aggressive and unpredictable nature of her melanoma, she start taking the immunotherapy drug Interferon. The drug made her feel like she had the flu every single day for months. She experienced chills, fever, aches, nausea and vomiting. It was constant suffering. Six months into the treatment, Ashley discovered she was pregnant.

She was beyond excited but also incredibly worried after talking to her doctors. She had to stop taking Interferon immediately, and a maternal fetal specialist gave her only bad news.

“She flat out said, ‘This will not end well.’ She said what would happen is the melanoma would cross through the placenta to the baby. She said the baby could be stillborn. We met with her several times, up until the very last legal week to abort in Massachusetts. The doctors recommended I go ahead and terminate. But they also said it could be my one and only opportunity to have a child, because if it spreads…” said Ashley, cutting herself off before finishing the end of her sentence, a haunted look in her eyes at what could have been.

It was an awful situation and Ashley felt like there was no right answer. Ultimately, she decided to stay pregnant, and was monitored very closely, receiving extra ultrasounds throughout her pregnancy. During one of those ultrasounds, at week 24, a mass was discovered in her left ovary. When doctors asked her what she wanted to do, she told them as long as her baby was healthy, she wanted to proceed.

“Long story short, she was born, and there was no melanoma in the placenta. She is the healthiest human being in the world. She never gets sick. She is my little miracle baby,” Ashley said, beaming.

After removing the mass in her ovary, which was also melanoma, Ashley hoped cancer was done with her. Approximately six months after her baby girl was born, she had her first post-pregnancy MRI scan.

“I felt healthy and positive about the direction every piece of my life was going,” said Ashley. “So, when my oncologist said it had spread to my brain, my heart sank.”

Not only had the melanoma spread to her brain, but the mass on her ovary returned, and was growing. She had to endure radiation for the brain mass, then more immunotherapy, and was hospitalized multiple times for liver, colon, and stomach complications, as well as abnormally high fevers. She had even more procedures and was put on additional medications. It seemed like it would never end. Ashley was fighting to keep her left ovary, as it was her dream to have more children. But nothing was working, so ultimately, the entire ovary was removed. Doctors once again told her she couldn’t have more children. Doctors were once again wrong.

Ashley now lives in Charleston with her husband and three children, two girls and one boy, and is seen at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center for regular checkups. In 2017, her oncologist, Dr. Daniel Reuben, told her she could finally say she is cancer free. Since then, the cancer has not returned, and Ashley visits

young couple with two kids

Hollings once a year for a full body scan, CT and MRI. This fall will be 10 years since her initial melanoma diagnosis, and Ashley is happy and healthy. She is excited about fighting cancer in another way this year, by participating in LOWVELO for the first time.

While she was initially entertaining the idea of the 20-mile ride, she has decided to stick to 10 miles for her first year. She has created a team, along with her employees at Robert Half. Her husband, oldest daughter and father are also planning to join her for the ride.

Ashley is excited to support LOWVELO, knowing firsthand how important cancer research is. She talks about how much different her outcome could’ve been if she had been diagnosed 20, or even 10, years earlier. Supporting lifesaving cancer research is something her whole family is, and will always be, passionate about.

“I was told about some really exciting developments that seem to be happening right at the cancer center, like with T-cell therapy. So, I’m just wanting to help support that, however I can. And I want to tell my story as much as I can ­– to whoever I can.”

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