FORT BRANCH — Allison Hale, 16, of Fort Branch credits a chemotherapy port with being alive.
"It saved my life," she said. "It's what healed me, what cured me."
The teen’s cancer journey started in January and lasted through June. She endured five rounds of chemotherapy and 20 rounds of radiation to treat stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“It all happened so fast. I didn’t really have time to think,” Hale recalled.
In May of 2020, she noticed a swollen lymph node.
“At the time, we didn’t really think it was anything because I have allergies,” Hale said. “It just kept growing and it was really hard to get into the doctor’s office because of COVID-19.”
After visiting her local doctor in early December of 2020, scans quickly turned into a two-and-a-half-hour trip to Indianapolis. Three days before Christmas, a team at Riley Hospital for Children diagnosed her with cancer. She was told it was in her neck, chest, and spleen.
“It’s terrible to think about, but at one point you’re like, if I go to sleep tonight and don’t wake up, that’s not going to be terrible," Hale said. "To put it simply, but reminding myself there’s a whole life in front of me was a big part of there’s no way you’re going to quit."
Dr. Gerard Hills said the teen was one of his very first patients at Riley Hospital for Children.
“There was a time where I got a chance to do an exam and started to see that some of her cancer was starting to go away and at that moment, she kind of looked up at her mom and said it’s worth it," Hills said.
"The bad days make the good days worth it," Hale said. And her port scar is a symbol of that.
“Some people may see that as a flaw and that’s mind-boggling to me. I’m like no way,” She added.
Weeks after she completed radiation, Hale sat for her school yearbook photo in August. She said it was something she was excited about, but that excitement dwindled once she got the photos back and noticed her port scar was missing.
“It was a negative, indescribable feeling of just anger and feeling disrespected,” Hale said.
She called the photography company herself and explained she never asked to have it edited out, sharing with them the importance of her port scar.
“There’s the socially accepted way, specifically, the way a woman should look and I was the complete opposite of that during cancer,” Hale said.
Hale said the company was polite and apologetic and the photos were fixed not long after that phone call.
“She stood up and really just wanted to voice her concerns and I’m really glad she did because it is not only helping her, but so many others,” Hills said.
“The new person I am, the stronger person, the empowered person I’ve become is now getting out there and is being shown and that means a lot to me.”
Hale’s mission is to spread body positivity. It is something she struggled with even before her cancer journey. She said social media and the culture of retouching photos only worsens the issue.
“What she is doing is kind of really opening the floodgates for others who have gone through something similar, whether a diagnosis of cancer or have gone through treatment to be proud of the journey," Hills added.
Music played a huge role throughout her journey. It is how Dr. Hills and Hale originally bonded through their musical backgrounds.
The high school Junior said she plays multiple instruments and even learned ukulele while at Riley.
Hills and Hale both love the musical, Hamilton. So much so, she even wrote a letter to Hamilton actor, Lin-Manuel Miranda, sharing her experiences and thanking him for creating work that helped her get through a cancer journey.
“I watched it like, every time I was in the hospital and when I came home from the hospital and drove to the hospital and we always listened to the soundtrack,” Hale said.
Hale received the following handwritten note from Miranda recently.
The one thing the teen from southern Indiana wants everyone to know is that it's okay to embrace your battle wounds.
“In accepting that in every form and shape you take, you’re beautiful and who you are is very important,” Hale said.
Hills said Hale has no evidence of disease. The teenager hopes to attend college and wants to continue advocating for cancer research and awareness.