Army Strong: A Prostate Cancer Survivor’s Remarkable Road to Recovery



When former U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Jacob L. Ashton retired after an honorable 20-year career, surviving tours in Iraq, Bosnia, and Somalia, he thought that he had overcome his most life-threatening challenge – unaware that his life would be altered by the unexpected detection of prostate cancer.

Prostate Cancer – Regular Checkups Save Lives

“How I found out was during my annual physical with my primary care physician” recalled Ashton, reflecting on the day in November 2020 when he learned that his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test revealed high levels of a cancer-causing toxin - inducing his body’s immune system to produce a defensive response. Over the course of the next 13 months, his physician tried to improve Ashton’s prospects with a variety of tests, numerous scans, and biopsies.

By the fall of 2021, Ashton and his wife made an appointment at Walter Reed’s Center for Prostate Disease Research, seeking clarity on the best options available given his age and medical history. After researching the likely outcomes and timelines for healing, the Ashtons jointly agreed that the radical prostatectomy with nerve sparing and lymph node dissection produced the best prospects for a healthy recovery.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Sean Q. Kern, a urological oncologist who attended medical school at the Uniformed Services University (USU), conducted the surgery alongside U.S. Army Capt. Brock Boehm. Following the surgery, Ashton seemingly recovered with few if any significant side effects, regularly returning for medical checkups with his urologist U.S. Army Col. (Dr.) Dorota Hawksworth and hormone therapy sessions with nurse practitioner Deborah Jolissaint.

According to Ashton, his periodic PSA tests revealed inconsistent progress and later a cancerous mass was detected on his seventh rib – near his spine.

A Soldier’s Creed: I Will Never Quit

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind only lung cancer, claiming nearly 35,000 lives each year. The medical team at Walter Reed’s John P. Murtha Cancer Center, which is the DoD’s only Cancer Center of Excellence, says Ashton has a Soldier’s resolve, determined to find a path to victory. Following the advice of his “Power Team,” comprised of surgeons, radiological oncologists and hormone therapists, Ashton completed a series of bone scans and prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA PET) scans to locate cancerous legions by injecting him with a synthetic radioactive amino acid.

Victory Loves Preparation

Although Ashton’s prostate had been entirely removed, the cancerous cells found on his rib required a new round of radiation and subsequent hormone therapy. Nurse practitioner Jolissaint, a passionate health care provider whose family has a rich legacy of service in the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, said Ashton embodies the strength, duty, and honor that make us a great nation.

“The whole reason all of us are here is to provide world-class medical service to our active duty and veteran service members and their families,” emphasized Jolissaint, who like her peers, has devoted her life to helping cancer patients ring the bell of life.

Ashton, a slim yet chiseled retired Soldier who has fought in dangerous and austere environments around the world, feels the weight of his emotions on this day, 22-years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans. His memory of that day is forever etched in his mind and soul.

Forge the Future

These days, Ashton serves as the Acting Branch Chief of the Law Enforcement Training Branch (LETB) of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, which in turn protects the secretary of defense and other military leaders. In addition to providing strategic direction for protecting the Pentagon, Ashton promotes greater cancer awareness among his trainees, encouraging annual screenings.

He says he owes his life to the enduring love and support of his wife Jennifer and his children, and the collaborative care he received from Walter Reed, the National Institutes of Health, and USU - keeping him strong in mind, body, and spirit.

Ashton keeps a photo in his office of him ringing the bell of life, celebrating earlier this year the remission of his cancer after a successful final round of radiation treatment. If you ask him what kept him going during his darkest hours, he’ll quote Christopher Reeve, the late actor known for portraying Superman: “I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Period20 Sep 2023 → 16 Oct 2023

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