by Derek Martin Wade
If you were to ask Allison about her bout with stage III breast cancer she would not tell you about the three surgeries, six rounds of chemotherapy or month of radiation treatments she endured. She would probably not tell you about the tattoos burned into her chest that guided the lasers to the exact location of the cancer cells but she might tell you that she didn’t have a ‘bout’ with cancer. It was not a sparring match but a dirty fight, not a skirmish or a battle but a war. Allison W. Gryphon; award-winning screenwriter, novelist and filmmaker brought every weapon in her arsenal to cancer and now she has two more; her forthcoming film What the F@#- is Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have It? and The Why? Foundation.
In Gryphon’s new film, What the F@#- is Cancer and Why Does Everybody Have It?, set to join the film festival circuit this summer,people are asked to describe cancer in one word. In my conversation with Allison, she said that when she asked her oncologist, who was at first stumped by the question, he pinpointed it in three words, “Enemy number one.”
Allison never expected to get “Enemy number one” let alone a cancer that had progressed as far as it had. She was in an age group of women who were less likely to get cancer; she was 38 years old, well below the 45 year olds and older group who were ten times more likely to be diagnosed with the same disease. In addition, a history of breast cancer did not exist in her family. Allison was also a self-admitted pilates addict and was in excellent physical shape. She cared about her body and what she put into it. She ate a healthy diet but was diagnosed with cancer anyway.
Three days after her diagnosis, Allison sat in a coffee house drinking the best coffee she had ever had and she felt “wide awake.” Everything that mattered, mattered so much more. She would no longer live her life the same and nothing would be taken for granted. It was a wake-up call.
Allison W. Gryphon did not live her life preparing for a battle with cancer but when cancer did come she was in top fighting form. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “The best weapon against an enemy is another enemy” and Allison was about to become breast cancer’s worst enemy. Allison believes that it is her healthy lifestyle that contributed to her success and gave her the strength to carry on through the rigorous chemotherapy and the cancer cell-killing radiation. In addition, she enriched her body by redefining her healthy diet by “eating clean;” a diet of organic, unrefined, minimally processed and locally grown food including antibiotic-free and growth hormone-free meats.
Allison believes that a cancer patient has to be a cancer fighter, to be proactive in their own recovery and to ask for help. She says “Fighting cancer is a team sport.” Allison’s team includes an army of friends and the The Why? Foundation.
There are hundreds of breast cancer websites that provide information in black and white text, statistics in graphs and pie charts bordered by pop up ads selling everything pink. Websites like these are filled with the ‘whats;’ What is Cancer? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments? What are the drugs and what are the chances? Nothing in these websites, including the website for the largest fundraiser for cancer research in the world aside from the U.S government, offers support for the newly diagnosed, provides emotional support for the recovering patient and answers the question ‘why?’
Allison Gryphon’s The Why? Foundation strives to provide a place for cancer patients and survivors to find answers, seek out support, community and real help. This place is an outlet for Allison’s experience as patient and survivor offering guideposts for others as well as a place for other sufferers and survivors to share their experiences. The Why? Foundation tells the recovering patient what to expect after treatment like how the simple things in our daily lives suddenly become very difficult.
There were slightly more than 230,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in the U.S. in 2011 of whom Allison W. Gryphon was one of them. That year almost forty thousand women died from the disease in the U.S. alone. That’s more than all the highway deaths and almost three times the homicide rate in the U.S. Allison produced her film for those cancer patients recently diagnosed and the additional 500,000 and more who are in varying stages of treatment as a means to create a united front to combat the deadly disease.
Today Allison W. Gryphon is believed to be cancer-free, is checked quarterly and is still fighting.