For Breast Cancer Awareness month we chose to highlight an inspiring survivor and her caregiver who are facing her journey together with love, faith and a positive attitude.
How did you become connected with Hope Scarves?
Allison: My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer almost 11 years ago, so when Lara started Hope Scarves and several of my friends became involved, I was instantly intrigued. My mom, sister and I all attended the first Backyard BBQ fundraiser with our guys and have followed the growth through the last several years. When I was diagnosed, I received two scarves from friends and I instantly felt very connected to the organization. What a powerful, yet simple way to send strength and hope! My husband Dan then began training for the Outrunning Cancer relay team and raised a bunch of money to help keep that hope flowing. We will support Hope Scarves forever. #GetLaratoGMA #dontignorestageiv.
Dan: I watched Christy (Allison’s sister) go through diagnosis and treatment 10 years ago. Although she did pretty well, I know it wasn’t easy. I was stunned when we received the positive results for Allison’s BRCA back then. These events, however, did not prepare me to hear the words this year “we found a mass, and it’s malignant”. I have to admit I was terrified in that moment. After discussing the particulars with the Surgical/Oncology team, I flipped my caregiver switch. I’m a “fixer”, and I knew that Allison and I would only get through this TOGETHER. I was there through both surgeries, went to every appointment, took every note, and felt genuinely grateful to be able to offer my support. As Allison says, we have been supporting Hope Scarves since the 1st BBQ, she received 2 scarves that meant the world to her, my relay team raised a bunch of money for the Outrunning Cancer team, and Hope Scarves is an organization I am proud to support.
How did receiving a scarf and story impact your healing journey?
Allison: I received two scarves, each with a powerful and honest story of courage in the face of fear. That is one way that I would describe hope. You’d have to be pretty crazy to not be fearful facing a cancer diagnosis, but when you focus on hope, you find the courage to live over the fear.
As a survivor, what are the things that provide hope and strength to you throughout your battle?
Allison: My family. I have an adoring husband, a ten year old daughter and an eight year old son. Their sweet faces – smiling at me through their fear – strengthened me daily. My husband NEVER left my side. He has no idea how encouraging and empowering he was or how loved he made me feel everyday. These three are true blessings in my life. At one crucial point early in my journey I laid on a hospital table and prayed to God to afford me more time to parent my children and love my husband. So far, he’s come through. My parents, sister, in-laws and extended family all rallied around us and helped Dan to keep life going around here. They were a constant source of love and support.
Our community. WOW. Talk about being blessed. We had NO idea how blessed we were until this happened. Prayers, cards, meals, rides, playdates, gift cards, flowers, rosaries, balloons – something seriously arrived every day. And I never went to one doctor’s appointment or chemo infusion alone. That may sound normal to some, but there are a lot of people in that place by themselves. We had to shut the door to our chemo room so our laughter wouldn’t disturb others’ sleep. I have the BEST friends. (and my mom’s chocolate brownies didn’t hurt…)
Faith. I believe that God has good plans for me and that my life will turn out the way it is supposed to. I know it will not be easy. It likely will not turn out the way I want it to – or at least how I think I want it to. But I trust that it will be as it should be, nonetheless. It has taken me years to let go and trust God with my life, but it has undoubtedly sustained me when things were tough and continues to be a source of light and hope for me and my family.
As a caregiver, what are ways you help provide hope and strength to your loved one throughout her battle?
Dan: In the beginning, I feel like I offered mostly physical and logistical support. Offering post-operative care, keeping the medication schedule, making the house comfortable for her, these were my daily tasks. Unfortunately, the rest of our life did not just stop. I had to keep up at work, keep the house running, keep the kids on track. We were truly in a fog, just trying to make it through each day.
After a while, I got into more of a rhythm, and I was able to offer more emotional and mental support. I would tell her how well she was doing with her treatments. I made her cross off each one on the calendar with a giant red marker – she felt good each time she did that. We would talk about how great our family and friends are, and how lucky we are to have their prayers and support. Being a fairly positive and goofy guy, I was constantly trying to cheer her up. It was hard when her hair started to go. She did not want to hear “everything is going to be alright – it will grow back”, she wanted to her “this sucks, but we are going to get through it together”. My son and I shaved our heads too. My faith has helped me persevere, and continue to offer hope and strength to Allison. I knew then, and I know now, the only way to get through this crazy life is to put others before yourself. Our community has done it for us, and this experience makes me want to pay it forward for others. We WILL show up.
Where are you currently on your cancer journey? Tell us how you are living life over cancer.
Allison: I was diagnosed with Stage 3A breast cancer during a preventive double mastectomy on January 28, 2015. Obviously, it was a total shock to me and all my loved ones – we were trying to prevent this from happening and here it was. Due to my BRCA1+ status, I was always at very high risk (88% lifetime risk of breast cancer), but deep inside, I never truly thought it would happen to me.
In my new reality, my life slowed down – ALOT. This was forced at first, but in a strange way, I welcomed it. My priorities shifted, and I loosened the tight, controlling grasp I’d always attempted to keep over all of life’s little circumstances. My faith told me that I’d be OK – maybe not my previous idea of “OK” but OK, nonetheless, so I set out to find the good in all of the ugly cancer stuff. It’s amazing what a little attitude shift can do for a person – when you look for the good in everything, you often find it. That’s not to say that there weren’t rough days, because there were plenty, but each day I did my best to show up as much as I could that day, and all of those little steps turned into a giant leap toward a happier and healthier life.
Now that treatment is over, my goal is to keep moving forward, even if forward means something different every day. Letting go of the big expectations and tight control allows me the grace to truly enjoy the joyful moments and the perspective to battle the tougher ones with hope.
What do you wish other people knew about Hope Scarves?
Allison: I wish people knew just how empowering wearing a scarf really is, and how encouraging it is to receive a beautiful one with a powerful and hopeful story attached. Women who are brave enough to share their story, whatever it may be, are a force to be reckoned with. When we share our true selves it is an invitation to others to share their messy stories too. That’s where the real grace begins! (and if you are ever in need of a hug in the grocery or Target – wear a scarf!) A stranger will undoubtedly hug you and tell you they are praying for you. So many people brightened my days in such simple ways!
What would you tell someone who is thinking about sending a Hope Scarf to a friend facing cancer?
Allison: What are you waiting for? You will NEVER regret reaching out to someone – but you may look back and regret it if you don’t. Receiving that bright little package may be just what they need today.
What is one of your dreams or goals for the future?
Allison: I have been “retired” from the working world since my son was born and love getting involved at their school and other activities. But I am starting to feel the itch to get involved somehow with the breast cancer story. Stay tuned, who knows where I’ll end up. In the meantime, my goal for the future is to enjoy the present.
What is your favorite inspirational quote or words to live by?
Allison: For several years now, I’ve been following the writings of Glennon Doyle, founder of Momastery (check her out!) and one of her favorite mottos is: “Just Show Up, Be Brave, Be Kind, Rest, Try Again.” That was a big one for me throughout my diagnosis and treatment. Dan and I have made “just show up” our family motto. I was humbled and lifted up by the unwavering support, encouragement, prayer, and love shown to me and my family throughout the seven months of surgical recovery and cancer treatment. It never let up. Ever. Everyday was something new. People are pretty amazing. They show up. So, now we show up. We can’t repay every kindness shown to us, but we can pay it forward. Show up for life and BE KIND – you’ll never regret it.
If your friends or family had to describe you in two words, what would those be?
Allison: I’ve never liked describing myself – I’ll let Dan handle this one!
Dan: Loyal. Kind. Ask anyone that knows Allison. She is your greatest advocate. She will truly listen to you, and not just think about what she will say next. She will stand up for you when you are not around. She will help you out, no matter what it may do to her own schedule. I have so much to learn from her, and I hope she knows how lucky I feel to be on this journey with her. Even when I’m stressed out, or being a jerk (these basically NEVER happen), I try to close my eyes and truly see the grace with which she has handled this year.
Please share something you learned facing cancer.
Allison: Truly, the biggest thing I learned facing cancer is that I need people. I know science would say that all a human needs to survive is food, water and shelter, but I’d add that we also need to love and be loved by people. The love I felt this year has changed me forever. It’s made me a better person. So, I guess that’s why I went through this – to become a kinder, gentler person and to pass on the love I received.
Here are some interesting links for you! Enjoy your stay :)