Ashley Abernethy attended Lee’s Summit schools from fifth grade through graduation from Lee’s Summit High School in 2005, so by her mother’s account, she is a born and bred Lee’s Summit girl.
So it’s only fitting that one of the memories Barb Abernethy has of her daughter is that of a young woman, who after turning 21, chose to regale in the nightlife of downtown Lee’s Summit, as opposed to other metro area locations and destinations.
Each year since 2010 the family and Ashley’s Purple Star Foundation, named in Ashley Abernethy’s honor, has held a fundraiser to raise money and awareness for SinoNasal Undifferentiated Carcinoma, a rare and aggressive cancer that claimed Ashley’s life in 2009 just days before her 23rd birthday.
This year’s event – Ashley’s Pub Crawl and Silent Auction – will be held April 27 in downtown Lee’s Summit. Participating pubs include American Garage, Stuey McBrews, Peanut, Mingle, Sharkeez and Do Drop In. The silent auction takes place at Stuey McBrews.
“When we thought about what it is we wanted to do for a fundraiser, I knew that if Ashley were here she’d say, ‘I’m not getting up at 6 a.m. to go run for a cause, so don’t make my friends do that for me.’” Barb Abernethy said of the fourth annual pub crawl fundraiser. “I’m speaking for her but I knew her for 23 years. So I picked what I thought she’d like to do and since she had recently turned 21, what she did was hang out with friends in downtown Lee’s Summit. She had actually worked a couple of places with (employees) from Stuey’s and liked to go to Jerry’s (Bait Shop) to listen to music and, of course, the Peanut was where all the young kids liked to go.
“If she were out with me and my friends to watch a game, it was Sharkeez. She preferred staying in downtown Lee’s Summit versus heading off to the Power and Light (in downtown Kansas City). She was a pretty relaxed individual so she’d rather do low-key with friends versus dress-up and pretend to fit in where she didn’t know folks.”
Since 2010, the foundation has collected close to $75,000 with the help of an annual pub crawl whose proceeds have been donated to Cayman BioMedical Research Institute, or CaBRI. CaBRI works in collaboration with doctors at the University of Michigan to help find a cure for the disease.
Ashley’s Purple Star Foundation works hand and hand with Cayman BioMedical Research Institute to perform research on the cancer. In 2004, an IT employee at Cayman Chemical was diagnosed with SNUC. Volunteers from Cayman rushed to form CaBRI in an effort to help their peer. Like Ashley, the employee lost his battle to the aggressive cancer, but the research lived on.
To date, with funding from Ashley’s Foundation and other private donations, CaBRI has completed genome sequencing, Abernethy said. Tumor whole genome sequencing will allow researchers to read the entire “instruction manual” of SNUC cells. Using the Cayman employee’s cranial biopsy specimen as a DNA source, and in collaboration with the University of Michigan groups headed by Larry Marentette and Arul Chinnaiyan, sequencing of the SNUC genome began in 2011 and is now completed.
Results will be reported in an upcoming research publication.
Abernethy said organizers are hoping to have hundreds on hand for this year’s event. Guest speaker for the fundraiser is Billy Owen, a cancer survivor who has turned his survival into a reality television and public speaking career.
“This year we are hoping to have over 400 participants, having fun for a great cause,” Abernethy said. “We work with Kansas City Transportation Group to ensure there are enough cabs so participants can have a safe ride home. We couldn’t do this without the help of many dedicated and driven volunteers who commit their time to the cause, as well as the downtown vendors, who not only host the event, but donate items to our silent auction.
“In addition to funding research, Ashley’s foundation also raises awareness. While we have connected with far too many who have succumbed to their cancer, we have found survivors.”