Two months after giving birth to her son, Hutson, in March 2020 Alli Coleman, the young mother of two noticed a lump. The then, 28-year-old contacted her doctor who told her it was just complications from nursing, but Coleman knew it was something bigger.
After finally convincing her doctor to let her come in for an appointment, the OB/GYN told Coleman the mysterious lump was just a cyst and scheduled an appointment with Franciscan Health Breast Center in Lafayette to get it taken care of.
However, when she got there they decided to do a few tests, like an ultrasound which led to Coleman’s first, and subsequently last, mammogram — a breast cancer screening which usually doesn’t take place until around the age of 40. Health care providers then opted to do a biopsy on Coleman.
“They said it was very suspicious, she (the nurse) kept saying very suspicious but like I could see in her eyes, something was really wrong,” Coleman said. “So I got to the car, my dad had driven me, and I just sobbed, because I already knew.”
The following week, her fears were confirmed when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer.
“It feels like any time people grieve, it just feels like your world has stopped. But everything keeps moving around you,” Coleman said, wiping away tears.
“Like when you hear the word cancer you feel like you’re being told you’re going to die. And it’s hard because you feel that way, and then when you tell your loved ones or your friends that you have cancer their face drops and it feels like they think you’re going to die too. And that’s the hard part.”
One in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their life, but the average age of diagnosis is 63, according to a Susan G. Komen study. Only about 4% are younger than 40 when they are diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society.
That is why Coleman is now advocating for younger people to detect the early signs of breast cancer.
“I’m definitely a huge advocate for young people finding out what you’re supposed to look for, because I think a lot of the time when people say ‘check yourself’ you don’t really know what that means. I didn’t know what that meant,” Coleman said. “I felt like a lump would be the only thing that you could find, but there’s like so many things to look out for.”
Coleman’s treatment process included six rounds of “hard hitting chemo,” followed by a double mastectomy, 36 rounds of radiation and eight final cycles of infusions called targeted therapy, a less aggressive form of chemo designed to kill any remaining cancer cells in her body. She finished her last round of infusions June 3 and was able to ring the bell, a tradition honored by many cancer patients across the world to celebrate the end of treatments.
When she rang the bell her husband and children were able to be with her for the first time since starting chemo due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hutson, who just turned one, and Lanie, age three, jumping into her arms was a moment Coleman said she would never forget.
“It meant everything, it was just so special to have them with me on my last infusion when I rang the bell,” she said.
While her husband and family couldn’t go with her to treatments, Coleman found friends in unexpected places. From the nurses who gave her the infusions to people all across her country on her Instagram page she created to document her journey and connect with other survivors.
Coleman also had a strong support system with the people in her life. From her parents taking care of her kids and her dad taking her to treatments, to her friends who set up a food train to make sure she never had to worry about making dinner, to her husband who took care of their two young children when she couldn’t — Coleman expressed immense gratitude.
In the community, Brothers Pizza held a fundraiser to support Coleman and her family. Raising nearly $5,000, the line to get in was wrapped around the entrance down Green street, according to one of the owners Luke Lowe.
“Besides being dear family friends, they’re just an amazing family and Alli is such a positive person,” Lowe said. “It was nice to see the community come together despite everything that happened last year.”
So as the world starts to get back to a new form of normal, Coleman is finding her own sense of the word. With medicine and shots, she continues to be cancer free, although that isn’t the term she prefers, comparing it to a disease that can hide out and come back whenever it feels like it saying, “I am a cancer survivor, and let’s hope it stays that way.”
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