Student loses mom to cancer, finds help in scholarship

Diane Dawson Foundation awards scholarships to kids who have lost a parent to cancer or another terminal illness
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Ashley Robison says her mom was the parent who let the kids do the “bad stuff.” Like when her dad, who served in the U.S. Air Force, would tell his family to limit themselves to three or four pieces of bacon each for breakfast. “(Mom) would say, ‘Let’s make the whole thing,’” Robison said. “It’s the stupid stuff, like making a pound of bacon, that you remember.” Robison and her older sister Amy lost their mom Sally to ovarian cancer in 2002. But the young woman, now 24 years old, uses the memory of her mother to guide and inspire her life. The recent college graduate works as human resources and marketing coordinator for Gallina, an accounting firm in Roseville, and recently bought a house in Lincoln. She is considered a “success story” in the eyes of the Diane Dawson Foundation, which awards scholarships to students who have lost a parent to cancer or another terminal illness. Robison graduated from Del Oro High School in 2004 and shortly after became one of the foundation’s first scholarship recipients. Established in 2003 in memory of Diane Dawson, the foundation provides aid for children in the greater Sacramento and Denver areas — two places the mother of two sons called home. The Granite Bay-based organization annually grants $2,000 scholarships to five or six students. “(Ashley) started at the very beginning when we didn’t have much to give,” said foundation board member Sam Rumbaugh. “Our goal is to reach as far as we can and do as much as we can. Ashley is typical of the recipients. They’re great people and they go on to be successful in their lives.” Robison applied her $500 check toward tuition at Sierra College to help reach her financial goal of finishing college debt free — a goal she proudly accomplished by working full-time at a radio station while in school. She graduated from Sacramento State University last year with a degree in business administration. Robison grew up in Loomis. Her mom taught kindergarten in the San Juan School District and served on the board of directors of Sierra College. She remembers her mom talking on the phone constantly, into the odd hours of the night, working on political campaigns or speaking with parents of her students. “Mom was 4 feet 10 inches tall, with dyed red hair and a spunky attitude,” Robison said. “She could do anything. It was amazing the things she could accomplish.” Her mom loved reading, history and singing with her children during car rides. She also liked to clean — a trait passed onto her youngest daughter. “My friends make fun of me for getting down on my hands and knees to clean the floor,” Robison said. “But you get a better scrub.” One day, her mom returned home from a conference looking pregnant. Her stomach had filled with fluid and she could barely walk. She went to the emergency room where a doctor diagnosed her with cancer that night, in late 1999. Robison was in 8th grade at the time, but her mom hid the diagnosis for a whole year. She wanted life to be normal, Robison said. Eventually, her dad told the kids the truth. Before long, Sally’s mind and body deteriorated. Robison said she would leave school early just to go home and lay with her mother. One day in April 2002, she got the phone call at school that her mom had passed away. “What kills me is I actually stayed at school that (morning) to take a math test,” Robison said. “It’s funny when you look back and think, ‘Why did I do that?’” Afterward, she read through cards and letters written by people her mother had touched. Sally once gave an electric blanket to an underprivileged child at her school. Robison still has the thank-you note from the child’s parent. “She really emphasized, which is my goal in life, to make a difference,” Robison said. “I learned a lot from her.” Thinking back to her Diane Dawson scholarship essay, she remembers describing her mom’s continued influence on her life. “I remember writing about how my mom was providing motivation,” Robison said. “You don’t know where you’re going in life, but (she is) a flashlight leading the way.” Sena Christian can be reached at ---------- What: Diane Dawson Foundation Bowl-a-Thon fundraiser When: noon Saturday, Aug. 14 Where: Strikes Family Entertainment Center, 5681 Lonetree Blvd. in Rocklin Cost: Sponsorship opportunities range from $30 to $1,200. Info: Visit or e-mail