Clinical research nurse Ashly Grafton, R.N., is a dedicated advocate for all the patients she works with at City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center. She also shares a special bond with them: Grafton was diagnosed with triple-negative Stage 2 breast cancer at age 32, continuing her family’s personal experience with cancer and making advocacy for her own care even more crucial.
Grafton was still a newlywed when she felt a lump in her breast. She went to get it checked, even though a well-woman exam a few weeks prior found nothing wrong. She lobbied to get an immediate mammogram and ultrasound appointment, and again for a biopsy as soon as possible.
“If you feel something is wrong with your health, you have to push for what you need,” Grafton said. “That’s especially true for younger women because there is a misconception that breast cancer only affects women older than 40, and that mindset needs to change. I would not have gotten things done if I hadn’t voiced my concerns and insisted on getting my tests.”
The results came back, but Grafton’s doctor would not discuss them with her over the phone, filling her with anxiety. At the time, Grafton was working at City of Hope in Duarte, and her physician leader connected her with City of Hope medical oncologist Niki Patel, M.D.
“City of Hope understands the urgency a person feels when they hear they have cancer,” Grafton said. “I’d already started chemo at City of Hope by the time I got the letter in the mail from my original doctor’s office that the biopsy results were in. That’s how quickly City of Hope moves!”
Daughter, survivor, nurse
City of Hope’s cancer-focused expertise was already known to the Grafton family before she ever worked or was treated there. Her father had already taken part in a City of Hope clinical trial for Stage 4 kidney cancer.
“I was in nursing school in another state, and I saw how wonderfully my dad was treated at City of Hope before he passed away during my senior year,” Grafton says. “I’d always wanted to get into research, so I’m ecstatic to be a clinical research nurse at City of Hope. Every day, I know I’m making my father proud by helping people with cancer and their families.”
Grafton transferred to City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center in May 2022. There, she continues to work with Dr. Krishnan, her physician leader in Duarte, who had begun practicing in Orange County a couple of years earlier. Grafton collaborates closely with Dr. Krishnan and the other physician-scientists leading hematology clinical trials in the comprehensive cancer center’s clinical research unit.
Part of her job is to ensure that the trial protocols are being rigorously followed. “I tell patients I’m their concierge; they call me, and I’m there for them. I set up the protocol and the schedule for them, and I arrange for any education or support services they need. I’ve had patients enter the trials in very serious shape, and then I see them doing amazing things and living their lives with their families — the changes can be remarkable.”
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Grafton wants Orange County families to know that City of Hope’s experts are here for them just like they were for her and her family. “City of Hope is where the cancer experts are,” she said. “I wanted someone who was a specialist in my type of cancer, and that’s who I found here. My dad was Stage 4, and we questioned whether anything could be done for him. City of Hope had answers — and hope — for us. There’s so much City of Hope can offer people with cancer.”
To make an appointment at any of our five Orange County locations, call 888-333-HOPE (4673).
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