“ Do not let the diagnosis define who you are. You are the same person you just have a huge challenge ahead of you. You are much stronger than you might think when something as daunting as cancer comes your way.
Allison Rosen is another mAss Kicker in the world of Oncology Research. Allison is a research assistant at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX. She graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science. In 2004, She graduated from Sam Houston State University with a Master of Science degree in Forensic Science. She is a very involved with local philanthropy and is active on the MD Anderson Young Adult Advisory Council. We are very fortunate to meet her online and ask her a few questions.
mK: Thanks Allison. You have a very interesting perspective as both a researcher and a survivor. What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
AR: I was diagnosed June 7th, 2012 after a scope with my GI doctor I had been going to for years. I had some weird bowel symptoms for about a month but had put off my yearly scope until things got to the point that I thought I had some sort of blockage in my small intestine. It turned out to be my tumor. After my first surgery they diagnosed it as colon/rectal cancer T3 N1 adenocarcinoma but this seemed to change so much I truthfully have no idea what my final diagnosis was, but it had not spread, which was a huge relief and all I cared about.
mK: What were your symptoms?
AR: Having dealt with Crohn’s Disease for so many years blood was normal to me so I didn’t think twice when I saw blood in my stool. For me what sparked me to investigate what was going on was my bowel habits. I would normally go 10-12 times a day regularly.
I knew something was wrong when I went from going to the bathroom all the time to not going at all and it seemed to happen quite fast. I felt like I was bloated, had acid reflux, but I knew something wasn’t right. I had an X-ray done and my GI doctor said I had some sort of blockage, so I did what you would do for a bowel prep for a scope and it seemed to help a little bit, but the symptoms came back a week later and that was when she ordered the scope. Turns out my 13 cm tumor was what was blocking the stool from moving down my colon.
mK: Yikes! So, why are you involved in research?
AR: I have always been a science person and loved the idea of the freedom of working in research. I actually have my background in Forensic science and worked in a crime lab for a bit before stumbling upon my current lab that works with hematopoietic stem cell function and biology as a very basic description. I have stayed so long (almost 10 years) in my lab because in a small way I feel like what we do will help others in the future and I get great joy out of knowing that. This is prob. Also the only job that I could still work almost the whole time, while going through my treatment and get support the whole way through the ups and downs. I am greatful to my boss and co-workers for being there for me when I needed to work and be distracted from what was going on with my body. They made me feel like I was still needed and it was therapeutic for me. I would walk over after work to MD Anderson’s Radiation treatment center until the very end of my radiation, when I couldn’t.
mK: Sounds like your co-workers were very supportive! What motivates you?
AR: I think the joy I get when I see others happy and or benefiting from whatever I am doing motivates me day in and day out. I am by nature a nurturing person and when I volunteer and help others it motivates me to keep doing what I am doing. Same with my job, when we get good results… that keeps me motivated to work harder to get even more results that hopefully someday will contribute to a cure for cancer.
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
AR: Truthfully it has been an up and down battle for me with complications due to radiation over the past year as well as other unforeseen complications so I have had glimpses of myself but it wasn’t until the past month or so that I finally started feeling like myself again. Some people bounce back quickly but for me even though I was cancer free after surgery when the tumor and my colon were removed it took me awhile for my body to get better and I am still healing and have one more surgery that lies ahead.
mK: Life after cancer is always complicated! Let’s get to know you… What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
AR: I am a very emotional person so I laugh when someone tells me a stupid joke, I always cry when an animal dies in a movie (even though I know it isn’t real), and what gets me angry is bad drivers when I am in a hurry to get somewhere. I have been more in touch with my emotions over the past few years than ever before.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
AR: I guess it would be my travels. I have been all over the world and will continue to travel as soon as a long flight is an option for me again. I have been to Russia, Japan, Australia, England, France, Ireland to name a few countries and have many more on my list. Right before I was diagnosed I went to visit my brother in Tokyo and one of my favorite things, besides seeing him and his family of course, was our day at Tokyo Disney. They sure do Disney right there!!
mK: Very cool! What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
AR: I think the toughest challenge for me has been dealing with all the side effects from my treatment. After you have this great milestone people do not realize that you are not just automatically well again. Some people don’t have any complications but I almost went into kidney failure and had to have drains put in and had issues with my temporary ostomy bag so my life got almost more crazy after my radiation, chemotherapy and main surgery were over.
For me I tried to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel because I knew I was in good hands and I knew only time would heal everything. I am not the most patient person but with help from the doctors, PA’s, psychologist, support group and parents I got through it. I’ve found that talking about it and sharing my story helped me so much. I also had a friend that was going through the same thing as me and I turned to her whenever I felt lost or needed someone to listen to me who understood 100%.
Also for me now being single with a temporary ostomy bag has its challenges because I want the person I am going out with to like me for me and not for what is attached to the outside of my body but not all people understand that. As a survivor we have gone through so much more than the average person our age so for me I do not want to waste time on people that might think an ostomy bag is a deal breaker.
I am 35 and was 32 when I was diagnosed. I was finally ready to meet someone and settle down and then I was diagnosed so now getting back into the dating scene is a whole new ball game especially since it seems like while I was sick all my friends got married, had kids and have a significant other. At times I feel left behind because I am still single and with no kids.
mK: Never thought about that… What is your guilty pleasure?
AR: Chocolate hands down. Love it and always had some sort of sweets by my side when I was in the hospital and was sure to share with the doctors and nurses.
mK: I’m sure they appreciated that! If you could change any famous moment in history any where in the world which event would it be and why?
AR: I am a positive happy go lucky person by nature so I think if I could change anything it would be to change the outcome of 911 and have the time to get everyone out of the towers. Disasters like that make no sense to me and I would like to go back in time and warn everyone and save lives.
mK: What do you like to do in your spare time?
AR: Volunteering my time is a huge passion of mine. Ever since I was old enough to volunteer I did. Now I volunteer with the Texas A&M alumni group in a mentoring program with at-risk youth, organize a Habitat for Humanity group a few times a year for the alumni, and organize an Aggie college night for local Houston high schoolers. I also volunteer with Make-a-Wish granting wishes and am on the Young Adult Advisory council at MD Anderson and am also on a patient experience steering committee as well. I also volunteer every year with the Houston livestock show and rodeo. I keep myself very busy with many different organizations.
mK: What are you up to now?
AR: Just working hard at my job and trying to figure out what is next for me in life. Cancer has changed me and I am even more passionate about advocacy for young adult cancer patients and think that I was meant to help others in one way shape or form.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
AR: Do not let the diagnosis define who you are. You are the same person you just have a huge challenge ahead of you. You are much stronger than you might think when something as daunting as cancer comes your way. Reach out to others to help you deal with what you face. There are so many people out there like me that want to help and sometimes a stranger is better than your close friends and family when it comes to listening to you and helping you deal with whatever is thrown your way. Not everyone is like me and wants to talk about what they are going through, but maybe a blog or email pen-pal from Immerman’s angels, or a support group. Also taking things one day at a time, it sounds so cliché but it is the only way to get through treatment and surgeries.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
AR: We are special people in a good way and use that to your advantage. Take the fast that you are going through treatment and or are a survivor and figure out what truly makes you happy and do it. So many people go through life hating their job, not happy in a relationships etc. I feel like since we went through something so challenging we have a more clear picture of how precious time is and are not going to waste it unhappy or bored. Its time to seize the world as there are so many opportunities waiting for us.
Allison Rosen: passionate young adult survivor advocate, accomplished volunteer, Chocolate lover, candy dealer, world traveler, Tokyo Disneyland Adventurer, animal lover, and proactive post treatment “thriver”. Thanks for sharing your story Allison. People need to know about Colo-Rectal Cancer. Awareness is the first step in the fight against these diseases.