“Please God, just let me live to be 50.”
Allison Lewis remembers the desperation she felt deep inside her heart while praying those words after she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 46.
Now 53, the mother of three tries to live her life in a way that provides hope, encouragement and comfort to others who are praying similar heartfelt prayers after a cancer diagnosis.
“I am just so grateful for each day I’ve been given since then,” Allison said with a bright smile, her eyes welling up with tears of joy.
“Tomorrow’s not a given, so I want to do everything I can to enjoy life and make the most of it, as well as help others as they travel this road.”
THE CALL THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
Her journey started on Feb. 4, 2013. The time was 9:20 a.m.
It was then Allison received the call that forever changed the course of her life.
“My doctor called and said, ‘I’m so sorry Allison. I hate to have to tell you this, but…’ and I said, ‘I have breast cancer, don’t I?’” she recalled.
“And he said yes. Everything after that was a blur.”
Allison encourages every woman to trust her instincts if something doesn’t seem right because she firmly believes she wouldn’t be alive today if she hadn’t trusted her own.
“Do not feel comfortable with a clean mammogram if you feel like something is wrong,” she cautioned, sharing that her mammogram prior to her diagnosis showed nothing.
She discovered her breast cancer on her own when she felt a lump the size of a quarter. The lump wasn’t raised and seemed innocent enough.
“But I knew I needed to get it check out,” she said. “I just knew.”
So, the next day she contacted her doctor, who said it was probably nothing but a cyst. However, to reassure her, he ordered a mammogram and a sonogram.
She drove herself to the hospital to have both done.
When the sonogram was performed, Allison saw the mass clearly on the imaging.
She was then told to call a driver because they were going to do a biopsy right then.
While she was stunned when she received the call a few days later confirming she had breast cancer, she wasn’t surprised.
She knew her instincts were right.
Thankfully, she trusted them once more when it came time to addressing the situation.
THE BEST DECISION OF HER LIFE
While it was recommended that she have a lumpectomy, Allison “felt very strongly” about having both her breasts removed just to be safe.
Although there were some in her life who thought she was going too far by having a bilateral mastectomy, Allison knows her instincts saved her life.
“Afterward, I learned the cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes,” she said. “I was so thankful I listened to my instincts and had both breasts removed instead of the lumpectomy.”
She underwent four chemotherapy treatments and still takes chemo medication. However, she didn’t undergo any radiation due to previous heart issues.
Even after she completed her treatments, life kept throwing curveballs at Allison. She’s since endured three back surgeries, and she still lives in significant pain each day.
However, she chooses to focus on the bright side.
Allison says it was a tough journey — especially being a mom. She beams with pride when she shares about her children.
There’s daughter Morgan Menendez, 25, a University of Texas graduate who works in an Austin, Texas, doctor’s office.
And son Kiki Menendez, 23, is a professional baseball player moving his way up through the Los Angeles Angels farm league.
Along with daughter Mia Menendez, who is 16 and a student at North Oldham High School. Although she was young when Allison was diagnosed, Mia has faithfully been by her mom’s side and has been a great encourager each step along the way.
Allison also shared how grateful she is for her mother, Rosa Lewis. Allison, Mia and Rosa all live together in Prospect, Ky., and Allison said her mom has been their rock through the roughest of times.
Many people, Allison said, have shown her love and kindness along the way. She is so grateful to all, but especially her hairdresser – Calvin Haycraft of Calvin Mitchell Salon – who has worked diligently to ensure she continued to feel beautiful, especially through her bald and hair regrowth days.
“Talk about amazing — he has been such a blessing,” she said.
PAYING IT FORWARD
Allison feels very fortunate to have had so many people be lights of hope and encouragement for her, especially during her darkest days.
To pay it forward, Allison now proudly volunteers with Blankets of Hope, which is an offshoot of the Fillies, a group created for women who have survived breast cancer and for those are still fighting it.
The Fillies gather four times a year at Country Lake Christian Retreat in Underwood to make the blankets, which are then dropped off at local cancer centers, along with letters telling the story of who made the gifts.
Allison takes her work with Blankets of Hope to heart.
“I feel like we are helping people know they aren’t alone,” she said. “We are letting them know they can get through this and that they matter in this world.”
She also volunteers her time with another local organization — Jill’s Wish, which works to minimize the financial hardships patients face while going through breast cancer treatment, so they can focus on recovery.
Jill’s Wish is so special to Allison because she personally knew the organization’s founder, Jill Conley. Jill passed away in 2016 from cancer, but Allison remains friends to this day with Jill’s husband, Bart.
Fortunately, she had the opportunity to publicly recognize the couple in October 2015 before Jill’s passing — as well as serve as a connector between the two organizations she loves.
“At the Fillies’ Blankets of Hope Survivor and Caregiver Celebration, Jill was recognized as a survivor that had gone above and beyond by giving back to the community. Bart was recognized as an excellent caregiver,” said Allison, who nominated them.
What Allison cherishes most about her memories of Jill is how she, even during her own most difficult times, reached out to help Allison.
In fact, early on in Allison’s recovery, when she was extremely emotional, it was Jill who inspired her to stay strong and focus on the positives in a one-on-one conversation at a Jill’s Wish gala.
After talking for a while, Jill went to the stage to speak. It was then Jill revealed she had been diagnosed with lung cancer, which was devastating news for all who loved her.
In that moment, Allison was overwhelmingly touched as she realized that Jill was able to put her own struggles and fears aside so that she could be a blessing to Allison in the midst of her own troubles.
“That really inspired me,” Allison said. “It meant so much to me Jill did that.”
It was in that moment Allison learned that no matter the fears, the sadness or even the pain she’s feeling, she must always go beyond herself to be a ray of light for others, just as Jill did for her.
“I’m very grateful to have been given more time here on this earth,” she said. “So, I want to make sure I am giving back and live my life as a genuinely happy person.”