Ashlee Begall is a quiet speaker and uses few words as she talks to a reporter.
Most of Ashlee's words can be found in her journals at home. The 15-year-old pours out her thoughts and wishes in those pages day after day, just as she has done since she learned to write.
So much has writing become a part of her life that her teacher at Shepherd Junior High this past school year, Wendy Peterson, encouraged her to enter a writing contest with her class. Ashlee won first place for her age group in the state, and was given an honorable mention at the national level in the Letters About Literature contest.
Her letter, written to "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie explores her own issues of a childhood lost.
Ashlee spent much of her early years suffering from an unknown ailment. Instead of carefree toddler years, Ashlee spent time with doctors as they tried to discover the cause of her illness. Finally, when she was 4, she was diagnosed with Primary Immune Deficiency.
With her body unable to create its own antibodies to protect itself from disease, Ashlee must undergo four to five hours of intravenous immunoglobulin therapy (IVIG) every three weeks at Cardon Children's Medical Center in Mesa. During the procedure, antibodies taken from plasma made up from thousands of donors enters Ashlee's body to do the work her body cannot do itself. After each treatment, she suffers flu-like symptoms. Three days later, her brain swells and the headaches come.
She has to watch what she eats, continue with her school work and cringes when someone coughs near her.
But she also doesn't let her disease slow her down, as evidenced by her plans this summer to play on not one, but two softball teams. A dynamite pitcher, she fell in love with the sport after her mom encouraged her to give it a try when she was 9.
To protect her upper body, where she has a permanent port for her treatment, she wears a chest pad. It's the only visible physical evidence that there's something different about her.
Ashlee doesn't talk much about her disease. When someone asks, she says, that's when she feels most different from everyone else.
"Friends didn't know" about her disease for the most part, she said. "When I told them - I'd been at the hospital - they'd be shocked. They'd never noticed" her illness.
In her letter to Barrie, though, she addressed her disease head on:
"As a child with a life-threatening disease, I was forced to grow up with a chaotic medical life. A hospital was certainly no place for silliness. I needed to be serious. I had to be solemn. When I hopped into the imaginative world of your ‘Peter Pan,' I tasted a sweet glimpse of childhood that I left behind."
Reading "Peter Pan" helped a younger Ashlee decide to take chances, she says.
"I know I'm going to be a lot stronger in the future," she says. "I have so much now to help me. When I was younger, I was so alone. I was in the hospital a lot."
"After reading ‘Peter Pan,' I was more open to things."