Thriving, not just surviving: Why defeating cancer inspired me to help others

On June 7, 2012, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Life as I knew it changed forever. The irony was that I had worked in cancer research for seven years. I was all too familiar with what people had to go through when fighting cancer.

With the support of my family, friends and workplace I faced the biggest obstacle I had ever encountered. Because I worked at Baylor College of Medicine, I knew I was surrounded by the best doctors to help me throughout my journey.

The years that followed my diagnosis were truly a test in perseverance and emotional strength. Five years later, I can now say I am cancer-free and living life to the fullest.

Along the way I lost some friends who were not there for me. I had times when I didn’t know how I would survive through the week. I’ve also dealt with fertility and body image issues. With the help of my doctors and support system, I got through it all and proudly call myself a survivor.

Duncan Cancer Center staff members Roshanda Chenier (left) and Allison Rosen (right) before a colorectal cancer monologue.

My passion for work changed, too. I wanted to do more for patients with cancer. After planning the Get Your Rear in Gear 5K at Baylor, I had the opportunity to join the NCI-designated Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Office of Outreach and Health Disparities.

I spend every day working to educate others on the importance of being screened. We reach people who are sometimes forgotten, including minorities that are most affected by certain cancers, the homeless, and those 50 years old and older who have never been educated about screenings.

While it’s important to continue reaching these populations, young adults are often left out when it comes to cancer education.

A recent study indicates that colorectal cancer diagnoses have decreased for people over the age of 50. However, this study also shows that colorectal cancers are on the rise in millennials, proving our work is just beginning with this age group.

One of the first events I went to when I started my new job was a colorectal cancer monologue hosted by our Theater Outreach Program. These plays and monologues help communicate the importance of getting screened for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers.  There were tears in my eyes knowing what I went through and what others go through because they don’t get screened early enough, leading to late stage cancers.

After that day, I knew I was in the perfect job that would allow me to help contribute to cancer education and awareness. I am comfortable telling our audiences that I am a survivor. When people see the face of a cancer survivor, they  react positively. I believe it helps them realize that if a young adult like me can be diagnosed with cancer, they need to get screened.

At the Duncan Cancer Center, we have a group of volunteers dubbed “the Bodyguards” and I plan to recruit more people to help educate others about screenings.

We also have an art car that promotes healthy eating and nutrition. Research shows healthy eating and weight control can help prevent cancer and recurrences of cancer if you are a survivor.

These are just a few of the ways we reach the underserved, uninsured and most at risk population in Houston and surrounding communities. I am beyond excited about what the future holds.

When I have free time outside of work, I also volunteer on a regular basis with many groups to help educate other young adults about colorectal cancer. I teach them the importance of knowing your body and potential symptoms to look for so they may never experience what I had to go through.

Many psychosocial aspects to the treatment process often get ignored in the younger population. I have developed a “Toolkit for Survival” for this aspect of life from a survivor’s perspective. Helping others helps me get through every day and figure out my new normal.

Additional Resources

Read more about cancer prevention efforts at the Duncan Cancer Center.

Learn more about Colorectal Cancer Awareness.

-By Allison Rosen, lead project coordinator in the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine


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