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Cancer keeps teen's holiday far from traditional

Ashley Wood didn't ask for Christmas gifts of a typical 17-year-old high school senior. No clothes. No cosmetics. No sports car.

But Ashley's life hasn't been that of a typical teen since age 15, when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Last July, doctors discovered the cancer had spread to her liver and spine.

"Of course, the first thing she asked for was a new body," her mother, Donna Wood, said of Ashley's Christmas wishes.

Her daughter "didn't make a big deal" of the holidays, Wood added. But Ashley received a lot of DVDs of the romantic comedy genre to entertain, to provoke lightheartedness and smiles, and to urge her thoughts from her body.

"She has a little DVD player she takes to the hospital with her," Wood said.

Every three weeks, the teen checks into the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa for a 2{-day dose of chemotherapy.

"They finally found a way to get chemotherapy into her," her mother said. Ashley had suffered allergic reactions to the first chemotherapy medications last summer.

"Her cancer counts have come down some," Wood reported. "The goal is to get her ovarian cancer level numbers down to a normal range. We're not there yet.

"Now she is dealing with all the horrible side effects of chemotherapy, but she's making progress. She handles it very well."

Those side effects include nausea, fatigue and aches, Wood said. After treatments, Ashley will sometimes sleep 20 to 22 hours a day.

With such a regimen, the family was unable to accept an offer from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office in which staffers wanted to take Ashley on a Christmas shopping expedition.

Father Phil Wood is a lieutenant in the Sheriff's Office, where he has served for 27 years; Donna is a database analyst and Web master, employed by the Sheriff's Office for 16 years.

With holiday excursions off the Woods' calendar, Ashley was able to join Mom, Dad and older sisters Lindsay of Brooksville and Stephani of Brandon for an at-home Christmas dinner of once-a-year prime rib.

"It has become our standard," said Donna Wood. "Food was the last thing on her mind, (but) she enjoyed continuing our traditions in spite of all the turmoil."

New Year's Eve was nontraditional. Ashley and her parents spent the night in the hospital when it was determined that Ashley's hemoglobin count required blood transfusions.

Through all of the turmoil, Ashley is continuing homebound studies provided through the Hernando school district.

"Her goal," her mother said, "is to graduate with her (Hernando High School) class in June."

The Sheriff's Office, the school district tutor, family and friends have provided support unexpected by the Woods.

"We have just been so amazed: phone calls, fundraisers, people offer to cut our grass," said Donna Wood, adding, "I'm going to cry."

She said that even her Hernando High Class of 1978 held a fundraiser for the family's benefit.

"There are too many to thank individually, write notes to. It's very touching that people care so much," she said.

On Jan. 22, there will be a Miss Winter Wonderland Beauty Pageant at the Hernando High School Performing Arts Center, with some of the proceeds going to benefit the Wood family.

The pageant is open to all Hernando County girls ages newborn to 20 years, and boys ages newborn to 6 years. The entry fee is $30 for all contestants. Optional competitions are $5 each.

Entry forms are available at the Hernando High front office. Proceeds from the event will also benefit the school's Future Business Leaders of America chapter.

WHERE TO CALL

For information or to make a donation to the pageant, the Woods family or the FBLA, call Janice Green or Barbara Davis at 797-7015, ext. 218.

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