Lori Allen won’t put breast cancer on the back-burner.
The star of TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta” was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, and her journey was documented in the TV Special “Say Yes to the Cure: Lori’s Fight.” After a double mastectomy, her personal battle is over. Now, she fights the war against breast cancer while running one of the largest bridal salons in the southern U.S., Bridals by Lori.
“Breast cancer is affecting women younger and younger,” Allen said. “I had a bride in who was 35 years old Saturday that had just had a double mastectomy and was getting married. She just took a shower, found a lump, went in and breast cancer.”
Allen will share the story of her breast cancer journey and some behind-the-scenes details about “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta” at Stand Up to Breast Cancer, a Breast Cancer Awareness Month event. The event is at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Emerald Coast Convention Center, 1250 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach.
Tickets are $50. To purchase tickets, visit GatehouseLive.com/Expos/Banquet/FortWaltonBeach/#//. For more information, visit Facebook.com/events/2203196663257522/.
The event is sponsored by the Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach Medical Center and the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Breast cancer has no face.
This is a phrase Allen uses frequently. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, she had no family history of breast cancer and was what she considered “healthy as a horse.”
If someone saw her on the street, they would never know she had breast cancer.
“It could be a young person; It could be an athlete,” Allen said. “Breast cancer does not discriminate.”
Allen had no intention of going to her annual mammogram. She threw away the appointment card, thinking she was too busy.
For no known reason, she went.
Allen got the call April 13. In poor circumstances, she was in the car with her husband on the way to his surgery for a carcinoid turmor. He has since fully recovered.
“Can you get any worse luck than that?” Allen said. “I’m more worried about him. I think this is typical of females. We worry about everybody else before we worry about ourselves.”
Allen’s plate was full, she said. Her husband had cancer; her daughter just given birth to a premature baby; her elder parents were a concern and she was filming two TV shows, “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta” and “Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids.”
Breast cancer wasn’t on Allen’s menu.
“To be honest, my perfect little world came crashing down,” Allen said. “I made up a scenario in my mind of how this was going to play out, which I think a lot of people to do. It’s real hard to wrap yourself around the fact that you look as good as you do and feel as good as you do, but you have something life-threatening.”
‘Life at stake’
Allen’s breast cancer story was featured in “Guideposts,” “People” and other magazines, but not the “nitty gritty of it,” she said. Allen plans to share details at Stand Up to Breast Cancer.
Allen’s daughter encouraged her to share the journey to her audience, so Allen asked TLC to film it. TLC gave the green light for “Say Yes to the Cure: Lori’s Fight” in two days.
“I had no idea how bad the cancer was,” Allen said. “I was like, ‘We’re not going to make some phony television show. We’re going to show how it is. We’re going to show how many appointments I have and exactly what went on. That’s what we ended up doing.”
Allen had a double mastectomy and a lattissimus dorsi flap procedure. The TV program saved lives, she said.
“We had people watching the show who did self breast exams, and found lumps and they were cancerous,” Allen said. “We had women that went in and had a mammogram and it was cancerous.
“If I saved one life, I did my job,” she added.
When men or women with breast cancer write to her, Allen gives them her best advice.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Allen said. “It’s going to seem dark for awhile. You’re going to be much stronger than you ever thought you were. ... You have to attack it. You have to come up with a plan and go for it, because it’s your life at stake.”
Allen treats spreading breast cancer awareness like a job.
To her, it is one. She lists five jobs: faith, family, bridal store, filming and breast cancer awareness.
In October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month — Allen’s co-workers at Bridals by Lori know she’s in “breast cancer mode,” she said. As one of the largest bridal stores in the southern U.S., it’s a platform for the cause.
Allen’s clients are young brides and their mother and grandmothers. Allen doesn’t want to make them paranoid, she wants to make them aware, she said.
“You can look and you can feel so healthy and good — which I did — and you can have breast cancer,” Allen said. “You can’t say, ‘I look great. I don’t feel any lumps.’
"I didn’t feel any lumps, but I had two types of breast cancer.”
Allen sells T-shirts at her shop during October to raise money for TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation in Atlanta, which helped Allen during her recovery. She speaks at events nationwide.
“I’m really not affiliated with one particular cause,” Allen said. “As long as we’re talking about breast cancer, I’ll do any of them. It’s like a passion for me.”
‘A happy bride’
Allen’s other passion is no mystery.
Bridal wear is in her blood. Her aunt, June Cottingham, owned three bridal stores in Mobile, Alabama, when Allen was growing up.
This year will mark Allen's 39th year in the industry. Saying yes to a dress is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together, she said.
“In the end, the picture should be a very happy bride — not a very happy mama, not a happy daddy or a very happy best friend,” Allen said. “I’m good at putting those puzzle pieces together.”
People enjoy the show because the mission is a challenge, Allen said.
“You have all these personalities and everyone has their own agenda,” Allen said. “They may want to say, ‘I picked it out,’ or ‘Her dress didn’t cost as much as my dress’ or the mom didn’t get a wedding dress or doesn’t want to spend the money or the mom doesn’t like the fiancé … You slowly, in this appointment, have to figure these things out and reach a resolution that makes the bride happy.”
The season 10 finale of “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta” aired in August, and Allen will begin filming season 11 soon. What makes the Atlanta version special is how it tells the brides' stories, Allen said.
“That’s the mojo of the show,” Allen said. “It’s not about the dress. It’s about the family agreeing on the dress, so the bride can move forward in the next step of her life. The dress just happens to be a symbol.”