OKALOOSA ISLAND — Breast cancer survivors and their loved ones gathered at the Emerald Coast Convention Center Tuesday night for the Stand Up to Breast Cancer event.
The night centered around the fight against breast cancer and was highlighted by guest speaker Lori Allen, from TLC’s "Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta" and "Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids."
“It’s rewarding to know that my experience is helping give women with cancer hope and inspiring others to get their mammograms,” said Allen, a double-mastectomy breast cancer survivor, before going on-stage. “Cancer may have been a momentary setback, but it’s only a chapter in my story. Cancer is not going to define me.”
Allen, along with 20 local breast cancer survivors who were honored at the event, shared a common goal: to remind women the importance of early detection and recognizing the symptoms of breast cancer.
Before here diagnosis in 2012, Allen said she performed monthly self-breast exams. She didn’t notice any lumps, so when the time came for her annual mammogram in 2012, she almost didn’t go.
"There’s a million things that we as women put above our health and I thought I was too busy,” Allen said. “I’m one of those women that’s healthy as a horse … I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my family.”
Between filming her two shows, a new grandchild and her aging parents, Allen didn’t think she had the time to get a mammogram. But her doctor kept nagging her to get it done and eventually, Allen gave in.
“I don’t know why they were so persistent but thank God they were, or I may not be here today,” Allen said.
A 3D mammogram revealed cancer against her rib cage. Within seven months, Allen went through a double lumpectomy — followed by a double mastectomy — but was able to avoid chemotherapy as a result of the early detection.
Her battle was documented in a TLC special "Say Yes to the Cure: Lori’s Fight." Now, Allen said it has become her mission to spread awareness and share her story.
Allen's message was welcomed by the hundreds of attendees at the event, many who had similar breast cancer experiences. She took questions from the audience following her remarks. Some asked about dealing with difficult brides — but the night came right back to being a survivor of breast cancer.
“The main thing is not to put yourself on the back burner,” she said. “Soccer practice is not more important than a mammogram, going shopping with your friends is not more important than a mammogram.
"You are important and you are worth it.”