Kelsey Plum Gives WNBA Fan With Cancer Dream Game-Day Experience

  • A Las Vegas Aces fan who is living with stage IV cancer said meeting Kelsey Plum is her dream.
  • The WNBA All-Star helped the woman tick it off her “bucket list” and gave her an unforgettable game day experience.
  • Plum and fan, Ashleigh Ahrens, spoke to Insider about their emotional meeting at Sunday’s game.

Ashleigh Ahrens has been a huge fan of the Las Vegas Aces since the WNBA franchise moved to Sin City in 2018.

During the Aces’ inaugural season at their “home away from home,” the Southern California native took a close friend to a game and immediately fell in love with the team. One player in particular — a lively sophomore point guard who, like her, hails from SoCal — caught her eye.

Four years and a life “turned upside down” later, the same Las Vegas player — 2022 WNBA All-Star Kelsey Plum — helped Ahrens tick a milestone off her bucket list.

“I loved her as an athlete before this weekend,” Ahrens told Insider. “And now I love her as a person.”

Plum hugs Ahrens.

Plum hugs Ahrens.

Las Vegas Aces

Fighting through a “devastating” diagnosis

In 2019, Ahrens, then just 32, received news that completely changed the course of her young life: She had stage IV – or metastatic – breast cancer.

First, doctors identified cancerous tissue in both of her femurs, her sternum, and her lungs, in addition to her breasts. And while “the word incurable was used,” like her noticed on her Instagram At that time the word “terminal” was not mentioned.

So she decided to fight and channeled the same “tenacity” she told Insiders drew her to Plum in the first place.

Kelsey Plum.

Plum (left) fights through contact.

AP Photo/John Locher

Ahrens underwent chemotherapy, a mastectomy, and radiation every three weeks. Then, just over a year after her initial diagnosis, a scan showed a new growth in a lymph node near her windpipe.

She started a new treatment, but a year later the cancer had spread to her brain. More testing, more treatment, more advances, and more victims — “like kids have and [choosing] no studies to complete” – followed.

“You can only really live from scan to scan every three months,” Ahrens told Insider. “And at 32, it took so many opportunities away from me.

“Nevertheless, I’ve accepted my new normal and changed the way I look at life,” she added. “Everything means more. Every moment. Every time I love you.”

A post by Ashleigh Ahrens (@ashleighjoy5)

With a new appreciation for the preciousness of time, Ahrens has made it his mission to “travel and see as many places as possible and have as many new experiences”. She has developed something like a bucket list.

In July of this year, Ahrens heralded the three-year anniversary of her initial diagnosis — a milestone she only had a 50% chance of reaching — during a trip to Yellowstone National Park with her fiancé.

A month later, she traveled to Las Vegas to pursue another item on her bucket list.

encounter with their inspiration

Ahrens knew in advance that her trip to Sin City would include some Aces basketball, but little did she know she would experience it up close and personal. She watched the WNBA’s top seed defeat the Atlanta Dream on August 9, then decided to return to the Michelob ULTRA Arena two days later for a massive matchup against reigning champion Chicago Sky.

“Originally, I had bought cheaper tickets, but when I saw that there were free seats, I decided to move to the front row,” said Ahrens. “It was sort of last minute … On my way I mentioned that I wish I had a sign.”

Ahrens holds her shield in the stands while Plum warms up for the game.

Ahrens holds her shield in the stands while Plum warms up for the game.

Las Vegas Aces

Her boyfriend convinced her they had enough time to make a detour to a supermarket. They gathered the necessary materials – paper, felt-tip pens, rhinestones, ribbons – and assembled Ahrens’ masterpiece “in about 10 minutes”.

It read: “Living with stage 4 breast cancer! Meeting Plum #10 is on my bucket list!”

It took less than a day for the superstar to take notice.

Ahrens holds up her sign to the crowd.

Las Vegas Aces

“My mom actually sent it to me and asked if I’d seen it,” Plum told Insider. “When she sent it, I tweeted it.”

She also reached out to the team’s social media director, Kris Lumague, “because he’s a genius — he knows everything” and would certainly be able to help her find the then-unknown fan.

“Indeed,” said Plum, “he found her.”

“Her social media guy found me via hashtags on Instagram after she texted him,” Ahrens confirmed. “At the same time, I received a text message from a friend with a screenshot of the tweet. I was overwhelmed. I commented on it immediately.”

From there, the Aces organization — as well as the goodwill of a Las Vegas fan who offered Ahrens a courtside seat for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Storm — made it “super easy” for Plum to organize the meeting. Ahrens arrived at the arena bright and early, met with some members of the Aces’ communications team and did some interviews with Fox 5 and ESPN.

Before she knew it, Plum emerged from the dressing room.

“She didn’t see me at first, but as soon as we made eye contact, I got up and almost ran to hug her,” Ahrens said. “We talked briefly. I made sure to tell her immediately how grateful I am and how much it means to me. To be honest I don’t remember her answer exactly, but basically it wasn’t a problem at all and she was happy to do it. Then she asked where my seats were and said she would come over after the game.”

Plum recalls adding something along the lines of, “You can hear me talk a lot during the game!”

“I just said it was a pleasure to meet you, I gave you a big hug,” Plum added. “I was just appreciating her for coming and telling her to let me know whatever you need I’m here.”

As promised, Plum found his way to Ahrens after the game – an exciting 109-100 win in Las Vegas. After 23 points and four rebounds, the sniper bought her a shirt and then bent down to unbuckle her shoes for Ahrens to take home.

“The coolest thing about all of this is that despite the fact that this is a daily fight, I haven’t thought about it in almost a week,” Ahrens said. “It’s ironic because my health inspired it. The greatest gift she has given me is a distraction from everything.”

“This bucket list item was by far my favorite,” she added.

Kelsey Plum unlaces her shoes to give to Ashleigh Ahrens.

Plum unlaces her shoes to give to Ahrens.

Las Vegas Aces

A reminder that “life is so much bigger than basketball”

Plum promised that this was only the first of many times Ahrens would hear from her.

“I’ll still be involved in checking on her and how she’s doing and stuff like that,” Plum said. “And I feel like this community has really seen the story and will wrap their arms around it because that’s what this community is. Not just the Aces, but the WNBA and the fans here in Las Vegas. A lot of people were touched.”

That was Ahrens’ aim. She said she hopes sharing her story will help inspire other people “like Kelsey inspires me.”

The feeling is mutual.

Plum (left) and Ahrens embrace after the Aces defeated the Seattle Storm.

Plum (left) and Ahrens embrace after the Aces defeated the Seattle Storm.

Las Vegas Aces

“I can’t really put it into words [what it means]just the fact that she was drawn to wanting to meet me of all things,” Plum said, words at a loss.

“She inspired me, so I think it goes both ways,” she added.

As always, the 27-year-old went into the first round of the WNBA playoffs motivated to “protect the house” and give the franchise its first-ever WNBA title. But Plum also went into the postseason with a fresh understanding that “this is just a game.”

“In terms of the big life, life is so much bigger than basketball.”

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