Allison Bially's Story Of Courage
I've been receiving so many books about breast cancer that I now have my own Breast Cancer library that include many different topics and stories. One book that was sent to me that really caught my eye was Booby Trap by Allison Bially who gives her breast cancer experience a little twist by relating her cancer journey to pregnancy.
Because of Allison’s first-hand knowledge of breast cancer (and parenting), I wanted to learn more about her; I wanted to hear her story.
Allison Bially is a wife, mother to two daughters and a golden retriever-shepherd mix, author and a breast cancer survivor. Below is Allison's story:
Our dreams were coming true. It was May, 2011 and we were in process of packing up our home in Portland, OR and moving to Southern California. It is something my husband and I had talked about for multiple years. There was so much to do – house hunting trips, packing, purging unnecessary belongings. Not to mention the errands: un-enroll the girls from school, find summer camps in California, and prepare to say goodbye to our friends.
Of course, I knew that once I moved I’d be busy with all manner of things, and so I should get my regular doctor appointments out of the way while still in Portland. As I scheduled appointments with pediatricians, dentists, and optometrists, one thought kept nagging at the back of my mind.
That hard thing I kept feeling in my boob.
I was pretty sure it was a pulled muscle. Or perhaps my breasts were just lumpy from my period. Either way, it surely was no big deal. But after losing a friend just months earlier to breast cancer, I decided that I needed to stop making excuses and make one important doctor’s appointment.
Over the course of the doctor’s visits that followed, that hard thing went from “I think it is a cyst” to stage 0 breast cancer. We thought if I had a mastectomy, and pronto, I’d be able to walk away from my dance with cancer with nothing more than surgery and perhaps a five year dose of Tamoxifen. Definitely not an easy course of action, but much better than some of the alternatives. My surgeon was great, pushing me to the front of the line so my move date would not be affected. I could get any follow up care in Southern California, land of my dreams.
They removed both my breasts (good riddance, I thought at the time. Although I must confess that every once in a while I really do miss those suckers). They removed a few lymph nodes, you know, just in case. And then they tested those lymph nodes. And re-tested them. And even tested them one more time. Because you see, despite the fact that I “only” had calcifications and not an actual tumor, those little nasty cancer cells made it to my lymph nodes.
Which meant chemo. And radiation. And a whole new ball game.
After a bit of debating, and some back and forth, we settled. Literally. We decided to stay in Portland for treatment. Day dreaming of Southern California would have to suffice. Those day dreams would keep me going through the treatment. But aside from those visions of sand and sun, how else was I going to stay sane?
I needed to find something to do. That is, something other than putting our Portland-based lives back together (re-enrolling the girls in school, finding them summer camps, canceling the movers). I needed something that would keep me occupied during treatment. Which was a pretty big challenge, because I really hate being bored and inactive. Since I would no longer be able to go to the gym, or go for a run, or do any number of activities that required strength, energy and effort, I needed to find a quiet activity. One I could do while my body was too tired, frail, or in pain. (And, let’s face it, when I was just plain lazy.) So I tried to find all sorts of activities that would keep me occupied when the meds kept me down. I tried crochet. But I’m really uncoordinated. (Really uncoordinated.) Not to mention incredibly impatient. I mean, who has time to WAIT? I thought about TV and movie marathons, but knew that I would end up feeling like a couch potato. Ugh. What could I do?
Now, moving to California wasn’t my only dream in life. In fact, as dreams go, that one was still in its infancy. I had a much older, much more deeply seated, dream. To write a book. That, I decided, would be a perfect way to while away my time. But I didn’t want to write just another “I had breast cancer” book. I wanted to bring a unique perspective to the world. Too bad I didn’t have a unique perspective. Where could I get one?
One day, while considering this conundrum, I had a phone call with a friend who was on maternity leave. She started talking about how often she is tired, and needs to sleep whenever she can. “Wow,” I said. “Me too.” She mentioned all the guests that were coming to visit to help her out. “Wow”, I exclaimed. “Me too.” In fact, as she rattled out the circumstances of her life as a new mother, I came to a stunning realization. Those circumstances were quite similar to my own.
Next thing I knew, I was cataloguing and categorizing all the strange ways cancer treatment reminded me of pregnancy. And as I came up with each new similarity, I would laugh. And as I laughed, I felt better.
That is when it hit me. What kind of book would anyone as crazy as me write while undergoing painful, difficult and nauseating treatment?
One that poked fun at my circumstances. One that made me laugh. One that would help me deal with what I was going through, that would keep me focused on the positive, and that would, in my dream world, help others as well. You see, I figured that if I found it funny, others would too. So patients can read it and laugh through the hard times, and family and friends can begin to understand what patients are going through.
But mostly, I wrote the book because it made me giggle. And kept my mind occupied. And gave me something to do. The fact that it helped a dream come true – pure bonus.
In the realms of dreams coming true, I did finally make it to Southern California. Thanks to cancer, the route was more circuitous that I would have hoped or expected. It took ten months of treatment, eight rounds of chemo, five and a half weeks of daily radiation zapping, and four surgeries. It took uprooting my family twice, and living in four different homes in two years during our slow creep south. But I finally made it – to health and to Southern California.
To cancer, all I can say is this: despite (and possibly because of) you and all you did to me, some of my dreams did come true. And I have no doubt that I’ll get to realize even more dreams as the years march forward.