Multiple Myeloma Survivor Gets the Job Done

Written By:Max Londberg

Multiple myeloma survivor Trey Allen loves life on the ranch.

Originally from the Texas Panhandle, Allen has spent much of his life working as a cowboy, first in Texas, then Colorado, and finally in Kansas, where he moved when his wife took a job there. Allen found a job nearby managing a ranch. He loved it so much that when his wife decided to move yet again for a new job, Allen didn’t go with her. They’ve been divorced ever since.

He still has the same job and he often says how grateful he is to have a boss who let him keep his job while fighting cancer.

Trouble in the blood cells

Nearly 2 years ago, in January 2013, Allen came down with a high fever. When he wasn’t better after a week, his girlfriend, Janice Hannagan, urged him to see a doctor. “My red blood cell count was 46% of normal, and my white blood cell count was just going haywire,” he says.

His doctor told Allen that he needed to perform a bone marrow biopsy — they’d take the bone marrow from his hip bone. Leukemia, the doctor told him, was what they were looking for first and foremost.

But a week later when the results came in, the doctor told Allen that he didn’t have leukemia, he had multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that forms in the plasma cells in bone marrow — cells that help the body fight infection.

“A lot of people say, ‘Why me?’ Mine was, ‘Why not me?’ I figure if somebody’s gotta have something it might as well be me.”

Allen says he felt numb for a time after learning he had cancer. His first task, however, was to tell his daughters about his diagnosis.

“I basically sat down with the 3 of them. One of them has a notepad computer deal, and I had them punch in this multiple myeloma. This is where I was so proud of them. Their response was, ‘What are you doing here? Why don’t you have your ass back home to get chemo started?’”

Balancing work and treatment

After Allen told his daughters, he started chemotherapy. A few months later, in the summer of 2013, he had an autologous stem cell transplant: his own stem cells were harvested, then he was treated with a high dosage of chemotherapy, and then his stem cells were given back to him with the hope that the high doses of chemotherapy would kill his cancer.

The results came back in September 2013. “The long and short of it was it did not work,” Allen explains. “At that point I went back on a chemo regimen that I’d been on in the spring.”

This past April his doctors recommended that he undergo another bone marrow transplant, this time using donor cells to put back in his body rather than his own. “My other option was to live on chemo,” he says. “And each drug at some point would quit working, so they actually wanted me to start the transplant in May or June.”

But Allen decided to postpone his second transplant until the fall, choosing instead to survive on chemo and continue working on the ranch during the summer. “May to September is our busiest time of year,” he says. “We look after 3,000 head of cattle, manage our own hay production, do fencing projects when the weather’s nice. There was basically no time that I could schedule something that extensive.”

“I had guys tell me, ‘You must be tough,’” Allen says. “I guess there’s a mental toughness involved, but by the same token, you know, I was hired on to do a job for a man, so regardless of my ailments, that job comes first. As long as I wasn’t compromising my health long-term, I wanted to get my job done.”

Allen says he also needs his wages to pay his bills, both for the hospital and outside it.

After his second transplant, which he underwent in September, Allen spent 32 days in the hospital with graft-versus-host disease. This happens when immune system cells from the donor attack the patient’s healthy tissues, such as the skin, liver, and digestive tract. Recovery was rough, and he lost about 50 pounds.

When he was able to leave the hospital, Allen stayed at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge facility in Kansas City while he continued his cancer treatments. The Hope Lodge program offers free, home-like accommodations for cancer patients and their caregivers whose best treatment options are away from home. Allen says that without the program, he wouldn’t know what to do because he wouldn’t be able to afford a hotel.

“It’s a place where he can make a home the best that he can,” says Shandee, his oldest daughter, “which means a lot to anyone not staying at home.”

Today Allen is fighting an infection – something he’s susceptible to because of the transplant. He hopes to return home soon, barring another setback. “People say you only live once,” Trey says often, “but really you only die once. You live every day.”

"People say you only live once, but really you only die once. You live every day."

Trey Allen

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

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