Robin Parks Allen

Robin Parks Allen maintains a blog where she writes about her adventures as a mom and her ordeals as a cancer survivor.

Robin Parks Allen never received an official breast cancer diagnosis.

A 52-year-old Roanoke blogger who works for a dental insurance agency, Allen sought a mammogram in her early 30s based largely on intuition.

“I just had a sense something wasn’t right,” she said. “I’m a believer and I have no doubt that my gut feeling was what saved my life.” She was concerned that insurance wouldn’t pay for the mammogram, because she was so young — though insurance did cover it.

She didn’t have cancer, as it turned out, but the test results were not reassuring. “From the very first mammogram, everything was abnormal.”

Her diagnosis was atypical ductal hyperplasia, an accumulation of abnormal cells that resemble breast duct cells. Generally, it won’t be readily detected by a self-examination. It can be a precursor to cancer, and health professionals tend to want to observe the tissue closely for further signs.

That’s what Allen’s doctors recommended at first. After three and a half years, she grew impatient with the notion of waiting for cancer to appear. “Why are we sitting around basically watching all this?” she said. “We got proactive. I got a double mastectomy.”

That was in 2003. At the time, the thinking was women didn’t need to start mammograms until they were 40. If she had waited that long, she would have had years of those abnormal cells growing and changing without any knowledge it was happening, she said. “There was no doubt that I actually beat breast cancer before it could get me.”

Allen’s blog, called 5Allenzplus, began in 2009 as a diary about her adventures with her husband Rex as parents of three children and foster parents of even more. Her writing expanded to cover many more topics, including heartfelt memories of her preventative battle against cancer and the pain that accompanied her breast reconstruction surgery.

“Breast cancer affects every person differently,” she wrote in a 2010 entry. “A very dear friend of ours died as a result of breast cancer. He was one of the most godly men I ever knew. Breast cancer is non-discriminatory. It is not a woman's disease. Cancer is ugly — period.”

The aftermath of her ordeal was mental and spiritual as well as physical. “I felt guilty for a long time saying that ... ‘survivor’ word. It felt like it wasn't right to call myself a survivor. My doctors and nurses disagreed.”

In 2013, a decade after her first reconstruction, complications required that she have new surgery. “Can you keep a secret? I don't want to,” she wrote. “I'm struggling with this one. I know I'm not supposed to fear. I know God is bigger than my fears.”

In January 2014, with the new surgery successfully behind her, Allen posted a picture of herself in the hospital bed, pointing and peering intently into the camera lens. She captioned the photo, “GET THAT MAMMOGRAM!”

Mike Allen writes the Arts & Extras column for The Roanoke Times. The beat he covers includes visual art, classical music, opera, theater, dance, literature, museums and other arts and cultural nonprofits, and things even more eclectic.

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