Imagine one of the happiest times of your life also being the worst. For Allison Stults, that’s what happened. In February of 2021, at 15 weeks pregnant, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
As a young mom of three, Stults and her husband entered 2021 with the news they were expecting their fourth child. In a matter of weeks, their excitement turned to concern when early in her second trimester, Stults began to feel like something was wrong.
“At the time I was really healthy. I was running ultra-marathons. I had trained for a 50-mile marathon, but only ran 30 because I was in a lot of pain and just chalked it all up to being pregnant in my 30s,” she shared. “Our fourth was a surprise, so my other children are 10, 8, and 6, so I had three by 25. I just thought being pregnant in your 30s was hard. It was so much easier in my 20s.”
Something told her what she was feeling was more than that and she was right. An ultrasound showed a mass that extended from her diaphragm to the bottom of her pelvis. She was sent to HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, IL, where she would undergo two surgeries in 72 hours.
“At the time, they said there was no way it was cancer. Even after they removed it they said there was still no way it was cancer, but the pathology report came back and it was cancer,” she said. “They told me I was one in 10 women worldwide in 20 years to have this type of cancer while pregnant. It was just so rare that they couldn’t even speculate the possibility of cancer.”
Her second surgery showed the stage of her cancer — stage 1, grade 3. If she had waited, her cancer could have progressed to stage 4 in a matter of weeks.
“I had a lot of questions and a lot of fears. I’m’ very lucky, in the sense that they said surgery and chemo can happen in the second trimester, but that’s not something a baby can survive in the first trimester, and in the third trimester it’s too late,” she said. “They said the uterus would have been too large to operate and you can’t do chemo in the third trimester. So as far as being diagnosed with the worst, I was lucky when I got diagnosed.”
After five weeks of recovery, Stults, at 20 weeks pregnant, began chemotherapy at the Quincy Medical Group (QMG) Cancer Institute. For the next seven weeks, she would undergo 15 chemo infusions.
“It was very difficult. There was nothing relatable because no one else was pregnant and no one else was young. I’m glad there was not; we’re a small community. There’s just not a large population of young adults with cancer,” she shared. “Just in general, the fears that you have to overcome when you have cancer are different than they are when you are 70 or 80.”
The “personal, wonderful” relationships she formed with the QMG team helped see her through. On April 23, 2021, she had her last treatment and in July of 2021, she welcomed a healthy baby boy.
“Emotionally, I was different with this delivery than with my first three deliveries. I had a lot of fear and concern. Some days, those thoughts can be all-consuming, like am I going to make the five-year survival rate. The emotional post-partum was much different than my other three,” she said.
Stults is doing well today and keeping busy with her now 10-month-old along and three older children. She remains under the care of QMG Medical Oncologist Dr. M. Amjad Ali and has a CAT lab and physical exam every three months. Today, she is one year and one-month cancer-free.
Although she’s happy about this milestone, like other cancer survivors, the emotional impact remains. Her heart goes out to others experiencing their own cancer journeys and she offers words of inspiration that helped her through.
“The saying ‘one day at a time’ is so true and if that’s too much, then one hour at a time or one minute at a time. Try just to take it moment by moment. A win can be just getting yourself there. There were some days, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to go to the place where I was diagnosed with cancer and have treatment. So there were days, I was like I just need to get there, now I need to walk through the door, and now I need to go sit in the chair. If that’s what you need to do to get through it, then just take it moment by moment,” she said.
In the QMG Cancer Institute is a wall filled with messages of hope and inspiration from patients, family, and friends. She added her own message.
“I wrote, ‘There are a billion things I can’t do, but a million things I can do,’” she said. “My advice to others is to focus on the things you can do. It’s really hard to focus on all the things you used to do and now can’t. Focus on what you can do, even if it’s hard.”
On Sunday, June 5, QMG will host “Hope Grows Here,” at the QMG Cancer Institute, located at 3301 Broadway St in Quincy at the Quincy Town Center, from 1 – 3 p.m. The community is invited to honor local cancer patients and survivors. A short program will begin at 1:45 p.m. To learn more, click here.