All month long we have been honoring Breast Cancer survivors in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Today's survivor story comes from Allison Stanley. Part of her journey was even documented in a daytime reality TV show.
Here's Allison's story:
On the outside, I may seem like a vivacious person – full of life, humorous and excited about the future. But who I am now formed from the scars, I have learned to accept and embrace, both physically and emotionally.
In February of 2004, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 aggressive, inflammatory breast cancer. The tumor was 9 cm and literally grew bigger and bigger each day. After a lumpectomy and the realization that I had cancer, the doctors urged me to have an immediate mastectomy. So, I did. I also discovered that I am “triple negative” which means that the cancer will not respond to hormones estrogen, progesterone or the presence of too many HER2 receptors.This began a difficult but life-changing journey that I am still exploring.
This prompted me to try out for the opportunity to “start over” again and off I went bald from chemo, burnt from radiation and fat from steroids, to Hollywood to be on a reality show. (I still say it was chemo brain that made me do it!) I became a housemate on NBC’s Emmy award-winning, daytime reality show “Starting Over”, for seasons two and three.
While I was on the TV show, the producers thought it would be “good TV” to test me for the BRCA1 gene. I meet with a genetic counselor at UCLA and we thought I would be fine since there was no history of breast cancer in my family. Ironically, I found out, on national TV, over the phone, that I tested positive for the BRCA -1 gene. That meant that I was predisposed to getting cancer again.
At one point, I found myself naked in a plastic surgeon’s office with production crew members all around me. I felt so violated and ashamed. I cried out to my life coach, the amazing Iyanla Vanzant, that I could not do it anymore. She looked at me straight in the eye and said that I had to continue to tell my story because for someone, I am going to be their Bible. I never hesitated again.
In an effort to prevent another bout with cancer, I made the tough decision to have a full hysterectomy, a tram flap and my other breast removed. After a successful 10-hour surgery in May of 2005, I came back for another season to let the viewers see how I was doing and to adjust to the “new normal.”
As a single woman, building a support network has been crucial. It took a couple of years to literally “catch up” from being sick. Since then my life has been an amazing ride. Yes, there have been downs, but there have been so many more ups. I often tell people that cancer was the best thing that happened to me. It is true.
I am proud to say that I am now 11 ½ years out from cancer. The statistics and odds were stacked against me but this feisty red head is STILL HERE!
Allison, we applaud you for your sharing your strength, courage, and hope with others affected by breast cancer!