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How daughter's illness
changed my life forever
MATTHEW ASHFORD of Days of Our Lives was crushed when his precious daughter Emma was diagnosed with eye cancer. But her brave struggle and miraculous recovery have made him appreciate life more than ever.

"It's changed my life. I'm not sweating the small stuff anymore," Ashford, 41, tells Star. "I try to appreciate and find humor in things much more."

He and wife Christina thought they'd never smile again after doctors told them in 1997 that their precious 4-month-old daughter had retinoblastoma, a devastating cancer of the retina.

"We were told to prepare for her to lose her eyes," says the actor. "But I went into survival mode. I felt this was something to fight."

Ashford, who just signed a three-year contract to reprise his role as Jack on the NBC soap, says his brave little girl had to undergo grueling chemotherapy and laser treatments at L.A.'s Children's Hospital in — but doctors saved her eyesight.

"The laser surgery heated up the tumors and allowed the chemo to sink in," says Ashford. "She had 35 surgeries over two years. They were able to stop the growth of the tumors."

Today, Emma has vision in her right eye and peripheral vision in her left.

"Fortunately, our daughter is doing great," reveals the soap star, who also has a daughter, Grace 8. "Emma's a survivor. She's a bright, funny little girl who is full of life."

Now he has joined forces with Bold and Beautiful's Hunter Tylo, who also has a daughter with the disease, to form Retinoblastoma International, an organization that raises awareness of the rare cancer.

"We're still taking baby steps," he says. "But we've raised $300,000 and grant money has come in for research and development. We devote a lot of energy to the organization.

"We want to reach people worldwide and let them know how to treat this."

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