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posted: 7/27/2016 6:00 AM

Strong finish: Gilberts cancer survivor walks 40 miles in two days

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  • Cancer survivor Jeanne Allen of Gilberts, who recently turned 40, walked more than 40 miles in two days, including a fundraiser walk for cancer research.

      Cancer survivor Jeanne Allen of Gilberts, who recently turned 40, walked more than 40 miles in two days, including a fundraiser walk for cancer research.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Leukemia survivor Jeanne Allen lives in Gilberts with her husband Fred and their sons Casey, 16, left, and Wylie, 17. She has been in remission for five years and recently went sky diving to celebrate her 40th birthday.

      Leukemia survivor Jeanne Allen lives in Gilberts with her husband Fred and their sons Casey, 16, left, and Wylie, 17. She has been in remission for five years and recently went sky diving to celebrate her 40th birthday.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Jeanne Allen's tracker shows the distance she walked from Hampshire Middle School to Hampshire High School to Gilberts Elementary School.

    Jeanne Allen's tracker shows the distance she walked from Hampshire Middle School to Hampshire High School to Gilberts Elementary School.
    COURTESY OF JEANNE ALLEN

  • Jeanne Allen at the finish line of the Northwestern Cancer Survivors' Celebration Walk and 5K on June 5.

    Jeanne Allen at the finish line of the Northwestern Cancer Survivors' Celebration Walk and 5K on June 5.
    COURTESY OF JEANNE ALLEN

 
By Liz Ramos
lramos@dailyherald.com

Gilberts resident Jeanne Allen stays at home with her two sons because she can.

She walks anywhere between three and 15 miles on any given day because she can.

She survived acute myeloid leukemia (AML) because she could.

And she did.

"Because I can" became a motto for Jeanne as she started her battle with cancer on July 11, 2011, when her two sons -- Wylie and Casey -- found her after she had fainted in their home. That day, her father took her to the emergency room, and the doctors diagnosed her with acute myeloid leukemia, a blood and bone marrow cancer.

"It was a complete shock. It was total disbelief. Even my dad said, 'I don't think she even understands or even realizes what this means, the significance of what this is,'" she said. "I quickly learned it."

She said, at first, she thought "acute" meant small, but her father then explained it meant she had a short time to get treatment. She told the doctors to do whatever they needed to do to help her.

Her husband of 18 years, Fred Allen, was spending the day with Wylie and Casey, taking them to buy school supplies and going to doctor appointments, when he received a call from Jeanne's father about the diagnosis.

"At first it seemed ridiculous to me. It was out of the blue. It was unreal," Fred said. "I couldn't imagine what they were saying about her dying was true. I knew she was sick, but neither one of us had any idea that was what was wrong at the time."

With her father's suggestion of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, she was sent to meet Dr. Jessica Altman, director of the Acute Leukemia Program of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center. She then met the team that would ultimately save her life.

Jeanne was determined to fight because of her sons, who were going back to school on Aug. 15. She said there was no other option but to fight.

"I am strong. I am confident. I have the will to survive. That I have been saying since day one," Jeanne said.

Four days before school started, she was released from the hospital. She walked her kids to the bus stop on Casey's first day of sixth grade and Wiley's first day of eighth grade, and when she asked the boys why she was walking them to the stop, they responded, "Because you can."

"It felt good because it felt like things were about to get better, and things were back to normal," Casey said.

As of Aug. 22, 2011, Altman conducted a bone marrow biopsy on Jeanne, confirming her disease was in remission.

"She was very determined to fight her leukemia and maintain her sense of self, her ability to be a mom, a friend, a spouse and to be all the things she is to all the other individuals in her life," Altman said. "She's gone through an incredible medical, physical and emotional journey through this process. It's a true testament to her, her strength and her fortitude."

Though the journey was long and painful, she survived. Her family, neighbors, doctors, members of the community as well as parents, teachers and staff from Gilbert Elementary School and Hampshire Middle School and High School all supported her along the way. She said she would never forget any bit of support, whether it was a simple wave from someone as she was walking or when her sons' Tri-Cities Little League Baseball team dedicated a game to her.

"It still brings tears because those boys worked really hard," she said about the game dedication. "They made sure that the boys were able to play that season. It was very humbling."

Jeanne was able to see Wylie walk across the stage and receive his diploma from Hampshire High School on May 21.

"All of these things my senior year, to have her there, it's not something that I take lightly," Wylie said. "I try to cherish those memories I have with her because she could not be there."

In an effort to spread awareness for all types of cancers, Jeanne took on a 40-mile celebration walk and participated in Gilberts' Community Days and Northwestern's Cancer Survivors' Celebration Walk and 5K, all within two days in June, as a way to pay it forward and give back to those who supported her and others going through the same battle. On June 4, she walked 32.72 miles followed by 13.89 miles including the Northwestern Cancer Survivors' Celebration Walk and 5K on June 5.

"If we all keep this information to ourselves, and we don't share our experiences, and we don't get the research, don't do the clinical trials, we aren't going to be able to help the next person," she said.

She continues to raise funds specifically for cancer research and participates in clinical trials any time she can. She has a fundraising page for the Lurie Cancer Center, which has already raised $1,796.

"She has clearly been touched so much by her disease, that she wants there to be more recognition for leukemia and research focused on developing better treatments for leukemia. We have the same goals, and we are so appreciative of her support and partnership," Altman said.

Jeanne doesn't know what her next step in life will be, but she knows fundraising and spreading awareness for cancer research is the right direction.

"I feel like I'm getting back to myself, which I haven't had that in a very long time," she said.

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