Ashley Dixon

Have you ever heard the quote, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog”? I’m going to tell you a story about one little girl who proved the truth of that quote, a little girl who changed my entire outlook on life.

I used to be a really miserable, negative person. But I wore a mask. Nobody ever knew how I truly felt inside. At the time, I worked in a nursing home, and one day I was told I had a new patient in Room 203 named Becky. I was supposed to go in and take her vital signs. I walked into the room, and there was a young girl sitting on the bed. She was beautiful. She had long blonde hair and blue eyes. I had never seen a child so stunning. I asked, “Do you know Becky,” thinking I was looking for the grandma she must’ve been visiting.

“I’m Becky, “ the little girl said. “This is my new room.”

I was really confused. I looked all around her room and I saw one pink teddy bear and a tiny bag of clothes. I took her vital signs and did what I was told to do. I had to be professional. This was my job. But as I walked out of the room, I ran over to the nurse’s station and flipped open Becky’s chart. I wanted to make sure I got the right information about the right patient.

Remember, I was working in a nursing home. There were no patients under the age of 65. But Becky was a special case. As I read the chart, I noticed that nobody had signed her in. She was an orphan. And, at 10 years old, she was dying of brain cancer.

An unsettling question

I was heartbroken. In fact, they excused me from work early that day, because I was a mess.

But the next day came, and I had to do patient care. I had to be professional, and I couldn’t let it affect me that she was so young, because it was part of my job.

It didn’t take long for Becky and me to bond. We talked every day. She was the most positive person I’d ever met in my life. She laughed more than anybody I knew. I taught her to play Connect Four, which became her favorite game. We laughed, we watched movies together … I felt like I was a parent to Becky, like she was my daughter.

After three weeks, however, I noticed that I had yet to see a single visitor for her. This affected me more than anything. How could anybody abandon a child? I wanted to make Becky as happy as I could, because I knew what the future brought for her.

One day, Becky told me she was convinced she was going to be a veterinarian. She loved animals and wanted to help them but said she’d never been to a zoo.

I decided I was going to take her. It wasn’t easy getting permission to do this. I had to go through so much paperwork! Finally, however, the nursing home allowed the trip, and we were off.

On the car ride there, Becky asked, “Are you afraid to die?”

Now, put yourself in my position: You’re a 17-year-old, going through a lot yourself, being asked by a 10-year-old girl if you’re afraid to die. With the strongest face I could put on, I told her that, no, I wasn’t afraid to die. “Because when we have a duty, we need to fulfill it,” I said, “and if God needs us, we need to go.” 

It took everything I had — everything I had — for me to say this to a girl who I knew only had weeks to live. But I managed to do it, and we went about our big day. We saw the animals, and she told me that she was going to take care of the animals one day. She was convinced. She was living her life as if she wasn’t ever going to die. She had goals, plans. At 10, she knew more about life than I did.

On the way home, I remember singing to music in the car. We were having a great time. In fact, Becky wanted to stop at the mall. She said she’d never been to one! I knew I wasn’t supposed to take her to that mall, but I couldn’t resist. I had to take her in there. So we went shopping, we ate in the food court, we spent the day together.

And then, she looked me in the eyes and asked me again.

“Miss Ashley, are you afraid to die?”

When I repeated my “no,” she said, “I think I am.”

“There’s no reason to be scared,” I said. “Live every day to the fullest and then you’ll really appreciate the true meaning of life.”

We returned from the trip in good spirits. Becky had seen one of her dreams come true. But a few days later, I noticed things were starting to change. When Becky was admitted, she was supposed to live only a few weeks, but we were pushing the four-month mark. The cancer was taking over her body.

She died on a Saturday night. A hospice nurse was doing care on her when she passed. But Becky didn’t leave without some final words that I’m convinced were meant for me.

“I’m not scared to die anymore.”

Becky was a small person thrown into a big world. But she fought a big fight. She never got the chance to go to high school, prom or graduation. She never got the chance to have a family, to get a proper education, to play a sport. She never even got the chance to have a family. And yet, until her dying day, she had the most positive attitude of anyone I’ve ever met, and she, a 10-year-old, had the biggest impact on my life so far.

So, the next time you find yourself tempted to give up on something in your own life, remember that 10-year-old girl who never got the opportunity to even begin.

And don’t ever give up.

Changed, Yes. Discouraged, No. Student looks ahead to life working as a trauma nurse

After the painful experience chronicled in this story, it wouldn’t be a stretch to wonder if it made Ashley Dixon question whether she was ready to face life-and-death dilemmas on a daily basis as a nurse.

In fact, Dixon was already dealing with tough issues in her life when she met Becky, having been on her own since she was 16. “I had no parental figures in my life at that time,” Dixon says. But giving up when things get tough has never been her style.

Today, as an 18-year-old high school senior with a bright future, she’s more determined than ever to achieve her goal of working as a trauma nurse.

Dixon recently landed an internship at Kent County Memorial Hospital in Warwick, R.I., where she works on the oncology ward. Not only will the internship provide the student with valuable experience, but it will also pay for her continuing education in full.

She plans to attend the Community College of Rhode Island and eventually the University of Massachusetts, where she hopes to receive her bachelor’s degree.

Described by her teachers as “a mover and a shaker,” and “a committed student with charisma,” Dixon will graduate from high school with honors in both her academic and technical courses. She’s also winding up her term as a SkillsUSA national officer, having been elected last year as Region 1 vice president.

“SkillsUSA has allowed me to be a better, more motivated person,” Dixon says, “and it’s taught me the true values in life. Career-wise, it has trained me and given me all the qualities I need to get my job done right. I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve learned for the world.”