When Elizabeth (Liz) McAllister looks back over the last year, she feels a real sense of gratitude despite having gone through two surgeries for breast cancer.
"I had always been healthy and active and was diligent about breast self-exams," said McAllister of Fox Lake. "Then I was shocked when I discovered a lump earlier this year. It was cancerous."
She said she went to Northwestern University in Chicago in March, where she had several lymph nodes removed to see if the cancer had spread throughout her system.
"Those tests were negative," McAllister said. "That was great news."
Still, she had to undergo had two surgeries for the cancer. She had her initial surgery at Northwestern in Chicago and then did her radiation at the Northwestern Grayslake Cancer Center.
She did not need chemotherapy, but did need radiation treatments. Those began in July.
"That was a long eight months," she admitted.
She had just opened a new personal training business in November, and was diagnosed with cancer in February. At first, she kept it all to herself.
"I told very few people," McAllister said. "None of my clients knew. I think I took off maybe three days with the initial surgery. Nobody knew because I didn't want anyone to think I was weak."
Someone who helped get her through was her husband Bill.
"That was an important lesson - how important it is to have support," she said. "If you have a support system, and you do a lot of research, you can get through this. This is not a life sentence."
She said the disease taught her to appreciate all of the people around her and to be compassionate with others because you never know what they may be going through.
"Having cancer has given me another whole perspective," McAllister said. "It makes me appreciate every day, and my family, in a whole new way. I especially appreciate my husband. He is the kindest, strongest man I have ever met. And my sons, Michael, 25, and Daniel, 22, were terrific."
She completed her radiation treatments at the Northwestern Grayslake Cancer Center. "That was a wonderful experience and I was glad it was so close to home," she said. She went five days a week, for seven weeks.
Her advice for others facing cancer?
"I am telling everyone I know to be aware of your own body," McAllister said. "Catching it early will give people so many more options. Don't be afraid to get something checked out. Waiting only adds to your worry and treatment time."
She said she is now more grateful than ever to have her friends, family and work. As a personal trainer at 390 Fitness in Antioch, she now wants to work with survivors to help train them. For more information, visit www.390fitness.com.
"You can't give up, even when facing cancer," McAllister said. "There is so much left to do and so much to be grateful for."