Like millions of women, identical twins Ashley Huffman and Danielle Jones had a family history of breast cancer, so they knew they might have an increased risk of developing the disease. Their paternal grandfather was diagnosed with it at the age of 55. However, neither one of them expected breast cancer to strike so early, nor did they expect to have it at the same time.
Ashley’s breast cancer journey started with a strange pain akin to a plugged milk duct. On November 26, she learned she had breast cancer.
“If I hadn’t been checked for this weird abnormality, who knows where I could’ve been down the road from now. My oncologist thought I probably had it for four to five years,” Huffman said. “Had a double mastectomy in January. Started chemo in March. Followed by 20 rounds of radiation.”
The plot twists didn’t stop there, though. Danielle joined the cancer-fighting club on the 15th of February, less than three months after Ashley was diagnosed. Luckily, Danielle’s cancer had not progressed as far. She may have her sister to thank for the increased vigilance that led to her early diagnosis.
“I had a double mastectomy in March,” says Danielle. “Then I didn’t have to do any chemo or radiation because mine had not spread yet. It was ductal carcinoma in situ.”
Danielle’s cancer journey was also easier because she had her sister to talk to, and Ashley had already been through a lot of the things Danielle had questions about. But on the whole, the sisters were both there for each other when they needed it.
The strange turn of events led the twins to get genetic testing done, and they learned that they both carry the BRCA 2 gene mutation, which puts them at a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
“Doctors recommended Danielle go and get tested to see if it was something she had, because we each had a 50/50 shot of having it,” Ashley says.
The sisters’ double diagnosis is something of a tragedy, but it has also been a blessing in disguise. Going through cancer together has brought them closer together and allowed them to find strength in one another.
Danielle has been declared cancer-free, while Ashley’s battle continues. She hopes to be cancer-free and done with treatments late next year.
Ashley and Danielle are using their experience to help others who are going on similar journeys. They’ve started a blog and shared their story on Facebook in the hopes of answering questions and showing solidarity with other men and women battling breast cancer. Danielle also hopes to start a breast cancer support group in her hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“The biggest take away is, early detection is everything, trusting your body and making sure you’re getting tested,” says Danielle.
Everyone deserves to have someone close to them they can lean on. We’re so glad Ashley and Danielle could be that for each other and so many other people!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?