Georgia woman works to stay one step ahead of stage IV breast cancer

Ashley Gunter is writing her story about what it's like to live with cancer that can't be cured.

"My daughters were 1 and 4 when I was diagnosed," the Athens, Georgia 34-year old says. "I was 30 years old."

At 34, Ashley Gunter of Athens, Georgia, blogs about her life with metastatic breast cancer. Gunter is one of more than 150,000 American men and women living with stage IV breast cancer, which is treatable, but not curable.

Her diagnosis came in February of 2016.

"After I was done breastfeeding my last daughter, I felt two lumps in my breast," Gunter says. "I automatically assumed maybe they were just clogged ducts because I was just done breastfeeding."

At 34, Ashley Gunter of Athens, Georgia, blogs about her life with metastatic breast cancer. Gunter is one of more than 150,000 American men and women living with stage IV breast cancer, which is treatable, but not curable.

Quickly, she got in to see her doctor, who sent her for testing.

"In the same day, I had a mammogram, I had a breast ultrasound, and then I had a breast biopsy," Gunter says.

She was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer and sent to see to Piedmont Athens Regional breast surgeon Dr. Cody Gunn.

At 34, Ashley Gunter of Athens, Georgia, blogs about her life with metastatic breast cancer. Gunter is one of more than 150,000 American men and women living with stage IV breast cancer, which is treatable, but not curable.

"We had a very lengthy conversation, and she showed up well-prepared," Gunn remembers. "I sent her to an oncologist. She really needed to have chemotherapy before she could have surgery."

But, before starting treatment, Gunter requested a PET scan to make sure the cancer hadn't spread.

"Sure enough, it was in my liver and about seven spots on my bones," she says.

Now, she was facing stage IV, or metastatic, breast cancer.

Ashley Gunter holds her chemotherapy medication.

"Now she's not really in a curative situation," Gunn says. "She's in a situation to treat her cancer to keep it at bay as long as possible."

"I asked about the prognosis of stage IV breast cancer, and they tell me 2 to 8 years," Gunter says.  "And, I'm, like, 'I'm not even going to turn 40?'"

That was 3 and a half years ago, and since then Gunter has been coming to University Cancer and Blood Center in Athens, undergoing treatment, after treatment, after treatment.

At 34, Ashley Gunter of Athens, Georgia, blogs about her life with metastatic breast cancer. Gunter is one of more than 150,000 American men and women living with stage IV breast cancer, which is treatable, but not curable.

"My personality I've learned is,  over the past 3 and a half years I've been dealing with this, I get upset about it at first, but then I just go into 'go' mode," Gunter says. "I've got to get a plan. Once I've got my plan, I feel confident about it. And, I can't say enough about having a great medical team."

Dr. Petros Nikolinakos, Gunter's medical oncologist, is guiding her through each new treatment. 

There have been almost too many to count.

Ashley Gunter has been living with metastatic breast cancer since 2016.

"She has gone through so many things so far," Nikolinakos says. "I think this is her 10th line of therapy, with more than 14 different kinds of cancer treatments."

Ashley never knows how long a particular chemotherapy regimen will be effective for her.

"You essentially take a drug until it stops working," she says.

One treatment worked for only three months, another help back the cancer for eight months.

Ashley Gunter was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer at 30 in 2016.

Nikolinakos is always looking down the road, for Gunter's next treatment option.

"(We) keep her going until the next one gets approved and the next one gets approved," he says.

But it's getting harder to find new drugs because they've burned through so many.

Ashley Gunter was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2016.

"Ashley is now reaching the point where she won't have anything available," Nikolinakos says.

That's why he is working to get Gunter into a clinical trial for an experimental targeted therapy at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.  

Recently, scans showed the cancer has metastasized to several areas in Ashley's brain.  

In order to join the trial, her brain must be clear of "mets."

So, Gunter underwent three weeks of whole-brain radiation.  

She has also started a new drug, Gunter is hoping will kill off any remaining cancer cells in her brain, so that she can join the study.

" I know what I'm up against, my family knows what I'm up against." 

— Ashley Gunter, on facing metastatic breast cancer

"I mean I know what I'm up against, my family knows what I'm up against," Gunter says.

But with her daughters, 8-year-old Kayden and 4-year-old Kellen to raise, and her husband Chase, Gunter says she can't afford to get stuck.

At 34, Ashley Gunter of Athens, Georgia, blogs about her life with metastatic breast cancer. Gunter is one of more than 150,000 American men and women living with stage IV breast cancer, which is treatable, but not curable. (Ashley Gunter)

"I can't stay in that lull because it cripples you," she says. "Even with the holidays coming up, it's like, is this going to be my last holiday? I don't know. It might be. But, if it is, we're going to all just do it the same as we normally would."

Ashley Gunter has been living with stage IV breast cancer since 2016.

After her diagnosis, Gunter  started a blog called "Who's Got Time for Chaos and Cancer?"

"Her attitude has been phenomenal," Gunn says. "She is very much about how can she use this to help other people."

 Gunter talks with Gunn weekly, although he hasn't treated her for years.

Gunter has also connected with thousands of other women, many of them young like her, with metastatic breast cancer.

Ashley Gunter has been living with stage IV breast cancer since 2016.

"They save me every time," she says. "It's like, 'What drug are you on next? I've been on this drug.' We share our experience."

Recently, when Gunter learned the cancer had spread to her brain, a woman on Facebook she has never met in person reached out.      

"She's like, 'I've had whole-brain radiation twice: this is what you're going to experience, this is what you do,'" Gunter says.

Ashley Gunter has been living with stage IV breast cancer since 2016.

Gunter keeps her focus on the long game, stretching out her treatment options as long as possible, hoping they'll be a new drug or therapy just around the corner.

"I try to live in that life mindset that I have a chronic illness, and I keep on trucking on every day," Gunter says. 

"I try to live in that life mindsight that I have a chronic illness, and I keep on trucking on every day,"

— Ashley Gunter, on living with stage IV breast cancer

Gunter wants to offer that same hope to other women.

Ashley Gunter has been living with stage IV breast cancer since 2016.

"Because I know a lot of other women who have defied the odds," she says. "So, I hope and pray I'm one of those people."