Says Yes to Survival
by Jessica Webb Errickson
Famed bridal-store owner Lori Allen readily admits that she’s no overnight success. Two weeks after graduating college, the sassy star of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta set up shop in a cramped, 1,000-square-foot section of an Atlanta strip mall. With a little time and a lot of hard work, Bridals by Lori blossomed into one of the nation’s largest full-service bridal salons, taking over the 25,000-square-foot building across the street from its tiny strip mall location. The thriving business caught the eye of television network TLC, and in 2010, Bridals by Lori became the setting for Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, with Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids falling in line soon thereafter.
Lori has worked hard to get to where she is today, so it’s no surprise that when breast cancer entered the picture, she didn’t just close up shop. Determined to come out stronger in the end, she faced down her diagnosis with true Southern grit and set out to show others facing cancer that they, too, can come out stronger on the other side.
The Phone Call
In early 2012, a suspicious shadow on Lori’s annual mammogram called for a biopsy, but Lori wasn’t really concerned. At the time, she was more focused on her husband, Eddie, who was facing colorectal cancer surgery. But on the morning of Eddie’s surgery, Lori received an unexpected phone call that would shift her focus from Eddie’s health to her own.
Coming out of the other side of cancer, life sure is good.
“I look down at my phone, and it’s my OB/GYN,” Lori shares in an interview with Coping® magazine. “His voice cracked, and he told me I had breast cancer.” The usually quick-witted Lori was speechless. “When you get that kind of news, you lose all of your senses and you cannot focus,” she admits.
When she regained her composure, she realized she had an opportunity. “After letting it sink in my head, I’m thinking, ‘God, why do I have breast cancer? I try to live a great life. I try to set an example for people. I try to do what’s right. Why did I get breast cancer?’” Lori explains. “Then it dawned on me – why not? I have a huge platform for women who watch Say Yes to the Dress. I’ve got to share this story.”
So Lori contacted the show’s producer, and three days after her diagnosis, TLC began following her to every appointment, documenting her journey for what would become the TV special Say Yes to the Cure: Lori’s Fight.
A Tough Decision
When Lori met with her surgeon to discuss treatment options, she learned that she had two types of cancer in her right breast, atypical cells in her left breast, and a choice to make: undergo a double lumpectomy or have a double mastectomy.
Not ready to face a mastectomy, Lori did some research and took what she felt was the more conservative route – double lumpectomy with lymph node removal. Unfortunately, her margins didn’t come back clear; cancer cells were still present in the area surrounding the tissue removed during surgery. She could now have a second lumpectomy, with the possibility that her margins still might not come back clear, or go ahead with the double mastectomy.
“I thought about it and prayed about it some more, and I decided, ‘OK, you’ve got to quit being a sissy and worrying about how bad it’s going to hurt and go see a plastic surgeon and get a double mastectomy,’” Lori says, “and that’s what I did.”
The scars don’t bother me, because the scars tell a story of what I’ve been through.
Lori opted for reconstruction with the latissimus dorsi flap procedure, which uses muscles and skin from the back to create new breasts. “The scars don’t bother me, because the scars tell a story of what I’ve been through. But I didn’t want to look at myself and not feel some normalcy too,” she says of her decision. “That’s why I went ahead with the reconstruction.”
Though immediate reconstruction isn’t right for everyone, “I did what was right for me,” she explains. “You’ve got to come to the decision that makes you comfortable. If it makes you happy to go in there and get bigger boobs than you had before, I say go for it, girl! We’ve been through a lot, so we deserve something!”
A New Outlook
Now that she’s cancer-free, Lori doesn’t sweat the small stuff. “I used to let stuff get to me. Three beads would be falling off a dress, and I’d just come unglued and call all my seamstresses,” she recalls. “Now, I shoot them an email, and I release it until the next day. You cannot sweat the small stuff and have cancer.”
In October, TLC aired an update of Say Yes to the Cure: Lori’s Fight, boosting her mission to share her story and be a source of inspiration. “If Lori Allen, the biggest sissy in the whole world, can get through this,” she quips, “anyone can.”
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2013.