A Tale of Two Ashleys: Meet a Nurse and a Patient Teaming Up for the New York City Marathon

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New York City talent agent Ashley Landay was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer when she was just 34 years old. After receiving the news at another hospital, she decided to come to Memorial Sloan Kettering for treatment. She met with medical oncologist Maria Theodoulou, who recommended chemotherapy first, followed by surgery and radiation.

Ashley L.: Dr. Theodoulou wanted me to be able to continue living my life and go to work. She said, “I’m going to try not to interfere with your life as much as possible.” She put me on a chemotherapy regimen that was an infusion once per week for five months.

At her second chemotherapy appointment, Ashley L. met nurse Ashley Pildis. The two immediately hit it off.

Ms. Pildis: I always think people have a special relationship with the nurse they have on their first chemo session because that nurse sets the tone for their whole experience. I feel fortunate that even though we met on the second appointment, we’ve still developed such a great relationship. As soon as I walked in the room and said, “Hi, I’m Ashley, your nurse,” she said, “I’m Ashley!” And it was really just that easy. Even if I wasn’t treating her on a particular day, I always made a point to stop by and ask how she was doing.

Ashley L.: We started seeing each other more consistently, and we would banter and talk. I thought, Are we allowed to be friends? Because I really wanted to be her friend. There was something in her spirit and sense of humor. She was so easy to talk to.

Ms. Pildis: Ashley is so warm. She and her husband are the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met. She’s always upbeat, funny, and there for you. It was such a pleasure to be with her as a nurse, and then as a friend.

Ashley responded well to chemotherapy. When it came time for surgery, breast surgeon Mahmoud El-Tamer did not recommend a mastectomy because the cancer had already spread to her spine and femur. Ashley had a lumpectomy in October 2015, followed by six weeks of radiation. Through it all, she and Ms. Pildis stayed close.

Ashley L.: The first time we hung out we had dinner. I wondered, Are we allowed to exchange phone numbers? Are we allowed to follow each other on Instagram? I didn’t know what boundaries nurses need to have.Then we just started hanging out. You know when you find your kindred spirit? That’s what it felt like. She’s a kindred spirit. She’s like the younger sister I never had. Cancer brought us together, but would we have found each other outside of this? I think we would have.

Ashley L. took up running shortly after her wedding in 2012. After completing a few half-marathons, she set her sights on the New York City Marathon.

Ashley L.: The marathon was a dream of mine, but it was untouchable. When I got diagnosed, I had a couple of friends who were adamant about going for runs with me in Central Park. In 2016, a year after I finished chemo, I was at MSK talking with Ashley and another nurse, Alexa. They told me they were running the marathon with Fred’s Team, which fundraises for cancer research at MSK. I was like, “I want to run the marathon!” Ashley was a total motivator. I signed up to run with a cancer support community that I’m a part of, Gilda’s Club.

Ms. Pildis: I got into running because of my father-in-law, who was a marathoner and pancreatic cancer survivor. Like Ashley, the marathon felt like an untouchable goal. Our friend Alexa, who was not a runner, signed up. She said, “If I can do it, you can too.” I signed up before I could change my mind.

In November 2016, Ashley L. and Ms. Pildis ran the New York City Marathon. Both loved the experience. In June 2017, while Ashley L. was receiving a maintenance infusion at MSK, she called on her support system to run the marathon again — this time, together for Fred’s Team.

Ashley L.: Ashley was in my treatment room and I said, “We should do it. Why not?” I emailed someone from Fred’s Team while I was in the treatment chair, and before I left, he responded, “You have a place if you want it.”

Ms. Pildis: I came in to take out Ashley’s IV and she said, “Do you want to run the marathon?” How could I say no?

Ms. Pildis and Ashley L. recruited two more people to make a team of four, which they called Smash Cancer. They started training runs with Fred’s Team and quickly found a community of like-minded people.

Ashley L.: When you have a cancer diagnosis, you’re trying to figure out your work life and your personal life and your cancer life, which is now this third lane. And there’s nothing that I found that intersected all three lanes until Fred’s Team. I spent every Saturday morning running and meeting new people — other survivors, doctors, nurses, and more. They became my coaches and mentors. You might all have different personal goals, but you’ve all been brought here for the same cause. From my first experience with Fred’s Team to this current experience, it’s been outrageous in the most wonderful way. Sometimes I want to pinch myself. The people that I’ve met, the amount of money that we’ve raised, the joy that we get to bring, and the camaraderie that we have with each other: It’s been wonderful and unexpected.

Ms. Pildis: A lot of people who have never been on a team within Fred’s Team said, “We want to be part of your team.” I think that’s a testament to Ashley, who is just so inviting and welcoming to everyone.

Ashley L. wasn’t able to run the 2018 marathon because she had a fracture in her shin. But she is back in 2019 for a third year with Smash Cancer. She comes to MSK every three weeks for maintenance treatment to keep the cancer at bay, and she will have one of her treatments three days before the race.

Ashley L.: When Dr. Theodoulou told me that I had stage IV breast cancer, I didn’t truly understand what it meant. I just knew it was bad. She told me, “I know you don’t see it now, but you will find that you’ll become happier in your life.” She was completely fearless. I started to cut away the noise and see things differently. Things started to shift, and it felt like I was almost recreating myself. This experience has given me Ashley. It’s given me Fred’s Team. It’s not just mine; it’s ours. It’s been such an incredible ride.