The Cancer Center’s Story Project is an effort to capture stories from our community of patients, friends, family, clinicians, and staff who have been affected by cancer in some way. This is Allison and Rich's Story.

  • About a year ago, Allison Orpen found out she had a type of lung cancer. Throughout her long journey, Allison has had her husband Rich by her side through her lung cancer treatment and the side effects and illnesses that came along with it.
  • "She has a lot of inner strength and I think that has a lot to do with why we are where we are."

Allison: “The doctors said, ‘We think you might have some fluids in your lungs, we can tell by your breathing.’ They came back with the results and said, ‘You have two liters of fluids in your right lung.’ I asked them what that meant and they said, ‘Well you might have an infection, or pneumonia, or cancer.’ After more tests they confirmed that I had 2 liters of fluid in my lungs, ‘You also unfortunately have blood clots, but more importantly you have cancer in your lungs.’ That was a bit of a blow. It was stage four. ‘You have 6 months to a year to live.’ I said, ‘What! I don’t feel bad at all though.’ My husband fell to his knees. Our palliative care physician said she’d like us to go to Mass General.”

Rich: “A few days later we went into Mass General and met with the oncology team. Our oncologist said, ‘We have nowhere near enough information to make that kind of prognosis.’ It made for a very happy feeling, we felt very chilled out.”

Allison: “I like to say I’m living with cancer, I don’t like to say I’m dying with cancer. Which my daughter says every hour. She’s having a tough time, it saddens her.”

Rich: “My son on the other hand, after several days of being very very upset, just inconsolably upset, he said, ‘No, Mom is going to beat this. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was told she was to never move again. She’s moving. Mom is going to beat this.’ My daughter was picking out graves and picking out where Allison was going to be buried. Sadly, this is her way of dealing with things.”

Allison: “Our faith has got us through a lot of it. We go to church everyday, we pray together. This has gotten us through a lot. We are best friends, we’ve been married for 39 years. I’m not typical with anything I get, I’m always the worst-case scenario, but I always fight through it. I come out on the other end, I’m a fighter. Maybe I can’t cure it, but I can make it better. I can’t see giving in, I’ve got to fight.”

Rich: “We’ve sat in the waiting room and you see patients where you know they’re cancer patients and they look like their world is over. Attitude is just so incredibly important. She (Allison) has a lot of inner strength and I think that has a lot to do with why we are where we are. I think we are at a pretty stable place right now, I mean we have all the confidence in the world with the doctors.”

Allison: “There’s so much out there that we had no idea about. Don’t do it alone. Get as much help and knowledge as you possibly can. Try not to be angry, nobody is doing this because they thought you were bad. You know, maybe we can’t win the race, but we will be grateful for the time we have, however much time that is. And we appreciate life so much more. We’re doing it together and we always will.”

She has a lot of inner strength and I think that has a lot to do with why we are where we are.

Rich Orpen

This interview took place in July 2016 and has been edited for clarity.