A Tahlequah teacher attended a Celebrate Life event last month at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa to mark five years of being cancer-free.
Ginger Allen said she feels like she has made it to "the other side" and is feeling like herself again.
"I think it's kind of sweet they do that. It was a very emotional day. It brings all the memories flooding back," said Allen. "It makes you think, 'Wow, I did it.' It's hard going through it."
The event featured a fair with booths, a catered luncheon, guest speakers, survivor stories, group photos, and a survivor walk.
"We walked the halls of the clinic. It was a long walk and everybody was out: doctors, nurses, secretaries, technicians. They had signs and were cheering," said Allen. "CTCA is just a gem. They think of everything."
Originally from Mannford, Oklahoma, Allen came to Tahlequah to attend Northeastern State University. In her sophomore year, she met Josh Allen, the current Tahlequah High School band director, and they were married in their junior year. They have one 14-year-old son, Isaac.
"I fell in love with Tahlequah. There is a family feel here," said Allen.
On Oct. 22, 2013, Allen learned from a doctor in Tulsa that she had breast cancer.
"The way she talked to me, it was like I wasn't going to live. It was terrifying. I was 35 years old," she said. "She said they were going to do a double mastectomy, and radiation and chemotherapy. I couldn't bring myself to speak. Josh was my voice."
The Allens decided to get a second opinion. The new doctor said they would do chemo first, then surgery and radiation.
"There was hope in every conversation," said Allen.
At the beginning, Allen was told she would need 18 treatments, and she started those in November.
"Going into treatments, they said it was shrinking," she said. "One chemo was literally killing me. I had three types of chemo. I went to the next chemo and only got six treatments."
Those lasted until February 2014, and Allen had surgery in April. She began 36 radiation treatments in June, going five days a week until the end of July.
"My body responded well to the treatments and prayers," said Allen.
While she continued teaching piano through chemotherapy, she had to quit for the rest of the treatments. Due to her medical insurance, Allen had her treatments at the original CTCA facility and its breast cancer center which is north of Chicago in Zion, Illinois.
All of this affected Alen's family, and she is thankful CTCA offered counseling to not just her, but also her husband and son.
"One person gets diagnosed, but it doesn't affect just one person. Josh was tight in the trenches. He'll say, 'When we went through cancer,'" said Allen. "Isaac would stay with friends and family. He had the best teachers."
After living on the lake for 15 years, the Allens sold their home and moved to Tahlequah to help cover expenses.
"Cancer is expensive. One chemo alone was $24,000," she said. "CTCA has a foundation to help cancer patients out. They would take care of my flight, but we had to pay for Josh's flights. We didn't go bankrupt, praise God."
Some of Allen's friends held a benefit to raise money, and she said that was very helpful.
"Tahlequah's a great family and I could definitely feel all the prayers that went out. It's very humbling," she said.
Although she continued going to church and started substitute teaching part time the first year after going through treatments, Allen said it was always difficult to talk about having cancer.
"If someone would talk to me, I'd sit and listen. I didn't want to talk. It was my coping mechanism," she said. "Just in the past year I've felt like talking. It doesn't feel so fresh."
Her insurance has changed and Allen now goes to CTCA in Tulsa for her yearly checkup.
"I would get close to the chemo floor and that smell would hit me and I'd get nauseous," she said. "I used to take naps regularly. I am running again and feeling back to myself."
After being a paraprofessional in a special education class at Greenwood Elementary School, Allen became certified in early childhood education. This will be her fourth year teaching kindergarten at Greenwood. She also gives piano lessons through the NSU Community Music Academy.
"Music is my passion. My favorite thing is to sit at the piano and sing to God," said Allen. "God didn't give me cancer; he got me through cancer."
She said her experience with breast cancer made her relationship with God go deeper, and she has learned to not care what people think about her and to purposely enjoy things in life.
"You get in a runt in life and don't want to verve from it. You forget how to enjoy life," she said. "I set aside a time during the day and do something I enjoy."
She recommends having a good attitude about life.
"There's always a light at the end of the tunnel," said Allen. "Never let the hope in your heart disappear. If you keep that hope, it'll turn into faith and you'll never be disappointed."