This is the kind of “it could happen to you” story that almost no one likes to hear, but Allie Colon’s breast cancer journey is one worth telling — if not for the badass factor alone. Colon was only 27 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, an age when most of us are worried about starting our careers or who we’re swiping on Tinder. At age 29, in 2015, Colon was finally able to mark her first Cancer Awareness Month cancer-free, and she posted some raw and beautiful photos to celebrate.
In the past year since these photos were released and swept the Internet, Colon is still doing well, with many of the ups and downs that you might expect from a breast cancer survivor. In June 2015, she found out she was pregnant with a “miracle baby” that she thought she never would be able to have, though she later lost the pregnancy. Colon also went in for her 13th surgery in December 2015 to try a fat grafting breast reconstruction technique (which she admitted was very painful). Following her surgery, Colon wrote, “I can finally say I am 95 percent to almost closing this long drawn out chapter in my life.”
Most people think of breast cancer as a disease for older women, but thanks to growing awareness, we are learning that it can strike women and girls in all stages of life (and men too!). Still, while every case is one too many and a heartbreak, there’s something particularly poignant about someone so young being struck down with the disease. So when she was diagnosed with stage 1 hormone-sensitive breast cancer (later upgraded to stage 2 after they found it had spread to her lymph nodes), Allie Colon and her doctor both were in shock.
“When my doctor first sat down to tell me the news, he told me I was his youngest patient yet. That kind of broke my heart a little, and I think his too,” she says. “I was the youngest breast cancer patient getting chemo, and when I lost my hair, I felt that people would stare because I was so young. I definitely feel like you get treated and looked at differently when you have cancer when you are younger.”
Besides being in the prime of her life, Allie had another reason to be heartbroken. “Ever since I can remember, I always wanted big boobs,” she explains. But while she loved sports growing up, she didn’t love her “athletic” body and worried that she looked like a boy, so as soon as she could, she got breast implants. Her new curves gave her confidence and made her feel beautiful. The implants may have even saved her life, she adds, as she doesn’t think she would have felt the first lump in her breast without them.
“Still, getting a double mastectomy was the most difficult thing for me,” she confesses. Worse, due to getting every complication in the book (“You know how they make you sign a waiver with all the warnings of things that can go wrong? I think I got every single one.”), she wasn’t able to have her breasts reconstructed right away, a fact that added one more source of pain to an already excruciating experience.
“Before breast cancer, I just thought you get the old ones off, and then get bigger and better ones! I never could have imagined all the difficulties and nightmares that can come along with it,” she says. “For some people, it’s easy and a breeze. But I’ve had 12 surgeries so far, and finally they are starting to start to look like breasts again. I still only have one nipple but will get the other one done on the next surgery coming up,” she adds.
In the meantime, she’s had to learn how to accept and love her body exactly the way it is now — scars and all. “My body is healthy and cancer-free, and I love that most of all,” she says. So she took a series of provocative, beautiful and incredibly brave portraits, posting them on social media and her blog, to celebrate her body and its amazing journey back to health.
“In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I decided to build the courage to post this raw, inspiring picture of myself. I was always scared and embarrassed to post it, but this year, I said screw it. Cancer broke me down, and we had one hell of a fight. I fought back harder, and stronger,” she wrote on her Facebook post that’s been seen and shared hundreds of times already. But, she says, she believes she’s still here for a reason, and that’s to inspire others and motivate them to be strong no matter what obstacles they’re facing!
Originally published Oct. 2015. Updated Sept. 2016.