Ashley Ferguson and her brothers grew up spending their weekends on the water. Their father shared his passion for fishing with them, taking them out in the boat and enjoying days relaxing under the sun.
In 2014, her father was diagnosed with liver cancer and began chemotherapy. He became weak, making it difficult for him to take care of his boat, and eventually, he sold it. “It was heartbreaking to watch my dad watch that boat be trailered away,” Ferguson says.
For her dad’s birthday, Ferguson and her husband, Adam, took her father on a chartered fishing trip out of Empire, Louisiana. Captain Mark Trahan was able to take them out on calm water with shade available, and they spent a nice October morning catching redfish and speckled trout in Bay Adams.
A year later, her father was placed on hospice. “Two days before he passed away, he thanked me for our fishing trip,” Ferguson says. “My dad had fished all over the world and caught all kinds of cool fish, but he was remembering the trout and redfish he caught that day in Empire. I think it was because it was his last trip, during a time when he was depressed, and it was with his family.”
Ferguson was inspired to help other people experience what her father did: a worry-free day on the boat with loved ones at their side. In 2017, she founded Dose of the Coast, an organization that brightens the lives of individuals impacted by life-altering illnesses by taking them on sunset cruises and fishing and sailing trips. Adam Ferguson’s friend, who worked at Our Lady of the Lake, loved the idea and offered them funds to begin their work.
“I wanted to give other people who are going through what my family went through a chance to have a good day out on the water. I want them to have something to look forward to other than a doctor’s appointment,” she says.
Baton Rouge’s Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center supports the organization’s mission by putting its patients and their families in contact with the program and by providing volunteer services.
Dr. Francinne Lawrence manages the Survivorship and Integrative Medicine Program at the Cancer Center and appreciates the work Dose of the Coast does in the community. She recalls the wife of one participant approaching her after a chartered fishing trip with their grandchildren. The woman, with tears in her eyes, thanked everyone for giving her husband, who had been battling cancer, a chance to forget about the disease for a few hours and experience life as he had before his diagnosis.
“It is very moving to watch patients who you have followed through tough, sad days, when they were afraid and sometimes in pain from treatment, and see them laughing with joyful light in their eyes and a large fish in their hand,” Dr. Lawrence says.
Dr. Lawrence’s experiences illustrate why Ferguson is motivated to continue her work and cultivate Dose of the Coast into the future. She loves seeing big smiles and hearing stories when her participants, or VIPs, get off the boat after their trip. “Many tell me they thought they already went on their last fishing trip. The VIPs keep me motivated. They are some of the most courageous people I have met,” she says.
Since its beginning, Dose of the Coast has proven its ability to make a difference. From ages 1-87, countless community members have been impacted by the positive influence of taking a break from tough times to appreciate all of the good things in life.
Ferguson shares, “Dose of the Coast has allowed me to witness kindness and generosity. It has put me face-to-face with the fact that life is short. What matters most is enjoying life with family and friends.” ■