Diana and Brian Ash moved from St. Louis 14 years ago on a whim.
“The day after he proposed, he told me he wanted us to quit our jobs and move to Columbia,” Diana Ash recalled. “He had this crazy idea of opening a restaurant. Neither one of us knew anything about the business, but I think he was inspired by ‘Casablanca’s Cafe Americaine.”
The Ashes opened Bambino’s on Hitt Street and settled in to their adopted community. Their family grew to include Amanda, now 10, and Alex, 8.
Then in 2004, Diana Ash was diagnosed with breast cancer and in 2005, it spread to her bones. Since then, she has been committed to raising money and awareness about breast cancer. “I don’t want others to have to suffer, you know, like I did,” she said.
Because of her efforts, Ash, 41, was honored as a local hero Thursday by the mid-Missouri affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
“Honestly, I cried all day when I heard the news,” she said. “I thought, ‘How could I be a hero when there are so many people out there fighting cancer?’ I am honored and blessed.”
The ceremony was held at Joe Machens BMW as part of the Ultimate Drive for the Cure, aimed at raising at least $1 million nationally for the Komen foundation. Ash, dressed from head to toe in pink, the symbolic color of breast cancer awareness, made her way to the podium through a tunnel of pink balloons. Tears welled in her eyes as she smiled at the audience, made up mostly of family, friends and cancer survivors.
Ash beamed when she saw her husband, who stood up front with a video camera to capture the event.
“I am incredibly honored to receive this,” she told the crowd. “I certainly don’t look like Spiderman or Superman, and I actually had to look up hero in the dictionary.”
Among her advocacy efforts, Ash has shared her story with politicians in Washington, D.C., and helped persuade Gov. Matt Blunt to secure $500,000 in additional funding for the Show-Me Healthy Women program, which provides breast and cervical cancer screening for women who can’t afford it.
She is a member of the fundraising committee for the mid-Missouri Komen affiliate, which is planning its next fundraiser, Hunt for the Cure. Scheduled for late June, the event will feature a daytime golf tournament and an evening trivia “hunt” through downtown restaurants, which will serve up pink beverages for the night.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 3,730 women in Missouri and 178,480 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
“Diana is a hero and a survivor,” said Elizabeth Mendenhall, director of the mid-Missouri Komen affiliate, in presenting the award.
Brian Ash, a former Sixth Ward councilman who decided against a second term after his wife became ill, said that he feels like their roles have been reversed.
“For so long, I was the rock star and she was behind the scenes,” he said. “Now I’m more behind the scenes, and she is the real rock star.”
But Diana said Brian helps keep her going.
“I owe a lot of thanks to my husband,” she said. “He’s been my rock, and he doesn’t give himself enough credit.”