Breast Cancer Struck and an Army Sprang Into Action

Ally Fairfield was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 23 years old, and an army mobilized to fortify her for the difficult journey. Ally’s Army, a group of 30 family members and friends has rallied around the owner of Ally’s Cake Pops since her diagnosis five years ago.

“They’re there for me whenever I need them,” the lifelong Jacksonville, Illinois, resident said. “They give me rides. They made meals. Anything you can think of, they supported me anyway possible.”

Ally is one of three women randomly chosen as Super Survivors to be honored at this year’s Memorial’s Be Aware Women’s Fair. The eighth annual event will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Orr Building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

Super Survivors are women whose breast cancer journeys have been an inspiration to others. Their unique stories will be shared with fair-goers when the Super Survivors reveal their makeovers, courtesy of BJ Grand Salon and Spa, and their new outfits. Organizers have annually selected three Super Survivors to honor for the last seven years.

See the reactions of the three Super Survivors when they were surprised with the news.

‘I Was Terrified’

Ally had no family history of breast cancer when she discovered a lump in her left breast in April 2012.

“I was terrified,” she recalled. Her mother tried to calm her, and others assured her that it was likely nothing, because she was so young.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, only 5 percent of cases occur in women under 40. For this reason it is important, especially for young woman, to do self-breast exams and to know their body, Ally said. In her case, she insisted on having the lump checked out. She had a lumpectomy, which revealed she had stage 3 breast cancer. The lump turned out to be about the size of a softball, although it didn’t feel that large, she said.

Ally said her diagnosis was both “heartbreaking and overwhelming” news. “I was young. I didn’t want to go through chemo and radiation at 24 years old. I didn’t want to lose my hair.”

Treatment and the Ongoing Battle

In addition to her army, her parents–Cindy and Bob–and her younger brother, Jake, were behind her all the way. “My mom is and was my best friend,” she said. And Jake, to show support when she had to have a mastectomy, traveled to a St. Louis mall and bought a pink outfit–shirt and shorts–to wear at the hospital. “It made me smile.”

After the mastectomy, Ally faced a full year of chemotherapy followed by 28 sessions of radiation–Monday through Friday.

While she is now in remission, she has contended with related complications. Her body rejected breast implants, and she has suffered from non-epileptic seizures following chemo, perhaps induced by stress or medication. She’s also dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder, suffering from flashbacks to her initial discovery and diagnosis. She has found help by talking to a counselor and psychiatrist.

Celebrating the Milestones

Despite the setbacks and complications, she has experienced high points as well. One highlight of her journey is gathering with friends and family every May 4 to celebrate the anniversary of her diagnosis, or, as Ally calls it, her “cancer-versary.”

For the first year, they celebrated by visiting a winery. And for the five-year anniversary this May, Ally and about 30 friends and family spent the night in Grafton, renting a house and visiting several bars to celebrate.

Why celebrate on her diagnosis day and not the day of her final cancer treatment? “It’s a reminder that I have another year of life, another reason to celebrate.”

Another highlight for Ally was serving as honorary “bat girl” for the Chicago Cubs in 2013. She and Ally’s Army chartered a bus to the game, where she was able to go on the field, meet the players and the owner and received a free jersey and a pink bat.

The previous year she received a visit from The Pink Heals, a national cancer awareness organization, which rolled into town with pink fire trucks. The organization provides home visits to show people they are loved, cherished and important to others, according to its website.

To other women diagnosed recently with breast cancer, no matter what their age, Ally’s advice is simple.

“Don’t give up, as hard as it will be. Stay strong and accept help from others. Definitely accept anything they’re willing to do,” Ally said. “You have to be willing to lean on people.”

Meet our other 2017 Super Survivors