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Eleven-year-old Ashley Long lost her battle with cancer Jan. 8.
Ashley and her family, parents Todd and Linda Long, and older brother Austin, had traveled to Orlando, Fla., to visit Disney World. She became ill at the airport as they were trying to return home. She was taken to the hospital where it was discovered her oxygen levels were low. Surgery was performed to insert a drainage tube in her lungs.
She survived the surgery but did not recover.
Ashley was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a rare form of childhood cancer, in November 2009.
She had been experiencing odd symptoms for three weeks before the diagnosis. She had night terrors, began to sleep in class and complained of leg aches. After she developed a high fever, she was taken to the hospital.
She fought the disease for four years and two months.
She was unable to attend school during much of her treatment, which included a bone marrow transplant from her brother.
She rebounded several times and was able to return to classes at Hodgenville Elementary School for a time.
The little girl was a “fighter,” according to HES Principal Sue Osborne.
“Even though Ashley’s illness prevented her from coming to school on a regular basis, she was always such a big part of our Hodgenville family,” said Osborne. “Ashley … inspired us all in so many ways with her determination and spirit. “
Last year, Ashley designed a T-shirt with a picture of a skunk and the words “Cancer Stinks.” The HES staff wore their T-shirts Thursday in her honor.
“It is just such an incredibly sad time for all of us,” said Osborne. “There are no plans in place yet for a school-wide memorial as this is something in which we will want to involve her family at a later date.”
Penny Cecil, who was principal at HES when Ashley was first diagnosed, got to know the family when Austin started school.
“They are some of the finest people I’ve ever met,” she said. “My condolences go out to Todd, Linda, Austin and (grandmother) Margaret (Allen) as well as all of her other family members.”
Cecil, who is now a curriculum specialist working out of Central Office, shared one of her favorite memories of Ashley.
“Even before she was old enough to attend HES she would come in every morning with her mom to drop off Austin. She had her backpack on like all the students and she was so excited about the prospect of coming to school soon herself. Sadly enough, after her diagnosis in second grade, she didn’t get to spend many days with us during her elementary years. You can only imagine my delight and surprise when I was walking down the fifth-grade hall at HES last year, and a little hand reached out and grabbed my arm. I stopped and looked back only to see Ashley with a huge grin on her face. I hugged her and we talked a while about how great it was that she was back with us. One of her biggest desires was to just get to come to school and do the normal things that other kids were doing.”
Linda Long had been updating Ashley’s status at www.CaringBridge.org. After Ashley’s death, she wrote: “Tonight I sit here with a broken heart as our baby gained her wings. She is no longer in pain and suffering but we are.”
The funeral is 11 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, at Bennett-Bertram Funeral Home in Hodgenville. Burial will follow in Pleasant Grove Baptist Church Cemetery in White City.
In celebration of Ashley, who was an artist and enjoyed bright colors, it is requested that those attending the services wear colorful clothing.
Visitation is after 9 a.m. Wednesday at the funeral home.