Allison John didn’t let her breast cancer diagnosis change the way she looked at her life, and continues to approach each day with positivity and determination.

What have you learned about yourself since your diagnosis?

“I don’t know that it has really taught me anything I didn’t know. I tend to approach stuff very logically. Of course, there was emotion but when the emotion passes it is more of the logical thinking. For me, it just appeared out of nowhere. One day I was just putting lotion on my body and I felt a lump that wasn’t there the day before. Just from one day to the next I hadn’t noticed it and then it appeared. So just as luck would have it, I had an appointment scheduled for my annual primary care visit two weeks later so I pretty much just waited for that and notified that I did find a lump. We did the appointment and she did a biopsy and confirmed that it was breast cancer."

"I didn’t have any history of it in my family, I did the genetic testing and all that. Pretty much everything went quickly after that. Mass General just started the appointments. I met with the oncologist, we talked about options. I decided to do a bilateral. I just felt better knowing that I would have reconstructive surgery and knowing it would probably not look the same, to just get both done and move on with it. So, I did my radiation before I did my reconstruction. After the surgery some time passed maybe 6 or so weeks. I think the radiation was worse than the chemo treatments. I didn’t have a very bad reaction to the chemo. I mean I lost my hair, the basics, because it is killing everything in your body. But overall, I didn’t experience any nausea. I would do chemo while I was at work. I went through the treatment without ever stopping working. At the time that my chemo was about to end, the FDA had approved a new drug. I did the radiation and that was a little bit harder because my skin was so sensitive and raw it was difficult. Then after a few months I did the reconstructive surgery.”

Has this experience changed your outlook on the way you live your life?

“Not really, only because I already know that tomorrow is not promised. It didn’t alter anything drastically for me in terms of life changing. My eating is the same because I didn’t eat unhealthy before. I guess it is an outlook of how I live my life. Even my girlfriend was going through chemo at the same time and she passed from it. But to me the diagnosis isn’t a death sentence. For me, people walk out of their house perfectly healthy and die. I didn’t see it as a death sentence, it was just an illness and I was being treated.”

What has been your experience at Mass General?

“My oncologist and nurse practitioner are really good. I feel very comfortable, I have always been treated with respect. I feel like I can just talk to them and share. The energy that they let off is also just very positive and always happy and engaging. It would never cease to amaze me that every time I came in the staff knew the patients, they knew everyone’s names. I thought that was excellent. It is real powerful. To have someone call your name from the second you walk in." 

"My mom was petrified. The kids were worried. And even more so because their godmother went through it and eventually died, that just because that happened to her doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to me. Every case is different. And I think people try to hide it from their kids and they know more than we give them credit for and they can handle more. Just talk to your kids and the people around you. It’s good for you, it’s good for them."

"The other part of it is embracing to some degree the changes your body goes through. You just need to figure out how to make it work for you. And it will get better and go back to normal or find a new normal. And that is true because there are effects that last. And you just learn to adjust. It’s not the end of the world.”

Do you have anything else that you would like to talk about?

“There will be hard days, don’t get me wrong. You get frustrated because walking up the stairs is hard and you’re tired. I think of it as ‘I did this, I got through it.’ It’s not a cakewalk and you don’t wish it on anybody. But if you’re in it, it’s not ‘why me’, because if it’s not you, it’s somebody else. Just approach it with as much positive energy as you can, knowing that it will be rough and some days you’ll want to cry and that’s fine. Do whatever you need to do, but at the end of the day you just gotta get up and keep living your life and put one foot in front of the other. Everybody has something, life is always throwing us whatever.”

This interview took place on March 7, 2017 and has been edited for clarity.

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