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A Lifelong Passion: Ashley Gaffey’s Story

From the lab to BellRinger, Ashley Gaffey has combined her passion for research and volunteer spirit to make strides in cancer treatment and inspire Riders on their journey to end cancer.

3 min read

As a local to the DMV from Herndon, Va., second-year BellRinger volunteer Ashley Gaffey is accustomed to living through the hustle and bustle of life — professionally and personally. Her journey to taking part in BellRinger started at a young age, and now at 23, she is doing all she can to further our fight against cancer.

Ashley has always been passionate about science, which led her to pursue a degree in biochemistry, molecular biology, and math at Gettysburg College. Her ambition was always to contribute to the field of cancer research, and after graduating in 2022 she made her way to Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she now works in Dr. Jeffrey Toretsky’s lab as a research assistant. Her primary focus is on Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that occurs in bones and the soft tissue around bones, and developing the science to support a targeted therapy treatment that attacks it directly.

Ashley’s work in the Toretsky lab centers on making an investigational therapy easier to administer for pediatric cancer patients. Specifically, she’s investigating ways to transform a drug from one that is traditionally administered via IV infusion to one that is taken as a daily pill. With this approach, cancer patients would be able to receive their treatment without spending hours receiving an IV infusion.

While her professional pursuit of furthering cancer research is taking flight in the Toretsky lab, it was spurred by a personal connection and a passion to make a difference. Ashley’s father faced his own battle with cancer, a journey marred by the harsh side effects of chemotherapy. She recounts, “My dad had cancer when I was a kid, and he almost died, not really from the cancer itself, but from the side effects of his chemotherapy.” This firsthand experience has fueled her commitment to finding treatments that are less taxing on patients.

Ashley’s overall commitment to cancer extends beyond the laboratory. She has actively participated in Relay for Life, an event that kickstarted her involvement in philanthropic volunteer work for cancer treatment advocacy. Her involvement began during her childhood and continued during college years. These experiences continually reinforced her passion to support cancer patients and survivors, just like her father.

Fast forward to October 22, 2022, Ashley found yet another way to give back: BellRinger. After hearing about the Ride through her team in the lab, she knew she had to get involved, even if she wasn’t able to get on a bike. Last year, she contributed to BellRinger’s Inaugural Ride by volunteering at the Traviliah rest stop, providing refreshments, snacks, and most importantly, encouragement that would help Riders cross the finish line. For BellRinger 2023, she will be volunteering at Ride Start on Saturday morning, and she is excited to see the entire community of Riders embark on their journey to end cancer together.

“Academic labs often struggle to get funding and, like most, are constantly writing grant applications for greater funding to continue the work. From my perspective in the lab, receiving money is obviously great, but knowing that my local community is doing their part to help advance research that will help ultimately save lives makes it so special. BellRinger is a constant reminder that people want to help make a change, and through its continued collective effort, we’ll be able to do just that.”

September 27, 2023

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