Mechelle Allen // Diagnosed at 21 // cancer survivor // CSPA Board Member // Dog Lover // Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Life Specialist at St. Francis Cancer Center

 

I was first connected with our Cancer Survivor’s Park because I am a cancer survivor.  In May 2016 at the young age of 21, I was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine (carcinoid) tumor that was found on my appendix during a routine surgery. I had no idea I even had cancer!

My initial surgery was for an ovarian cyst and my OBGYN, Dr. Brandi Alt scheduled me to perform that surgery.  While operating, Dr. Alt discovered a carcinoid tumor latched to my appendix.  Dr. David Anderson with St. Francis General Surgery was immediately called in to intervene due to this being outside of Dr. Alt’s expertise.

At that time, my mother was contacted in the waiting room to ask if they could receive her verbal consent to urgently remove my appendix. She of course gave consent and was completely taken off guard and lost because they didn’t explain why or any further details . They did reassure her that my appendix was something I could live without, but she still did not know they found a tumor.  As any Mother would be, she felt very scared, anxious and concerned while Dr. Anderson performed my appendectomy. It wasn’t until we followed up with the surgeon that we found out the tumor was cancer.  I remember feeling distraught because we were not aware of what we were walking into.

After returning home from surgery, days later I developed an infection that resulted in an abscess that caused me to experience significant symptoms of a fever, sweats, fatigue and no appetite. As a result, I had to return to the hospital and they found an abscess from my first procedure.  Then I had to undergo another procedure- a right hemicolectomy. The amount of weight I lost was unbelievable.

Thankfully the rest of my journey has been healing, reflecting, and taking care of me after the surgeries.  Dr. Xuezhong Yang with St. Francis Cancer Center is my medical oncologist that assists with routine screenings, monitors my hematology needs such as having low iron during that period, as well as clinical assessments during surveillance period.  I will always be grateful for each of these St. Francis physicians and their medical teams for taking such excellent care of me.

There are a couple of memories that I look back at my journey and consider them blessings.  There is a saying that one of my close cousins, Lyndsey Madden uses that has stuck with me throughout my journey- she refers to it as a “God Wink.”  Which is basically God’s way of looking out for you, covering, revealing, or protecting us in certain situations.  Because of this tumor being identified as a slow growing tumor, it was almost something that would have had to be intentionally looked for.  But thankfully during my surgery for the ovarian cyst it was discovered and removed! I believe God was revealing the tumor in that moment so it could be addressed as needed.

Another core memory is that I wasn’t supposed to get my pathology results until Monday, but Dr. Anderson, my surgeon came in on Sunday, his day off.  He showed up in his civilian clothes when I was in the hospital to share with me and my Mom the details of my report.  He informed us that my lymph nodes were negative and there was no other evidence of disease.  (Praise God!) I was so appreciative of Dr. Anderson coming in on his day off because it showed me how much he cared and considered us in that moment personally. God brings us blessings though his angels here on earth during our difficult times.

Cancer has affected me in a motivational sense to be intentional and appreciate every moment of life and make it count.  It’s shown me how to push forward and be resilient no matter what.  It has brought my family and my village closer together.  I had hands on help from so many angles of my family that I will forever cherish!  It also tested our faith and increased it!  Because of teamwork, I was able to pass and get through that chapter of my life with more love and support than I ever could have imagined. My cancer diagnosis has changed my perspective on life and taught be to be optimistic.  It’s taught me to focus on the positive and to become a more positive person.

Being a “survivor” now defines me in a different way.  I’ve learned to walk through hardships and let it not defeat me.  Going through whatever life may throw at you, MAKING it through whatever challenge you’ve faced and living through it in the healthiest way possible is so important.  We are all survivors.  Each day we are still choosing to get up and face whatever we are going through, and for everyone, that is something different.  Remaining ten toes down and focused is how you persevere through.

One thing that I would want people to understand is how important it is to have a support system.  The value and power of support is necessary whether they are there to uplift you or just be a voice.  Everyone needs a vessel in a cancer diagnosis.  I would also want people to understand that being in tune with your body and advocating for your health thoroughly and adequately is so important!  Whether you are a young adult or adolescent being heard and taken seriously when expressing concerns regarding personal health….don’t be scared to speak up and advocate for yourself!

The most important advice I would like to share with anyone dealing with cancer is to remember there is never too big of a problem for God.  Nothing is too much for God to handle and He will reveal His perfect plan in time.  God is able and He will provide, heal, and restore.

With all things in life, God brings His beauty and blessings in all things.  Even the hard ones.  I would like to end my story with one of my most memorable experiences throughout this process……the scars after my procedure.  They made me a bit insecure at first, but now I see them  as blessing and testimony.  Never forget, there is great beauty in all struggles!!