Allyson Whitney remembered

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Allyson with her grandmother Ann Rustic

When Allyson Whitney Strong graduated from St. John’s in 2008, she had plans to become a speech pathologist. Ally, as she liked to be called, then went on to graduate school at C.W. Post to continue with her plan. She aspired to have a career where she could help others, her friends and family said.

What Allyson did not plan on, though, was being diagnosed with Small Cell Cervical Cancer (SCCC) at age 24, a cancer so rare it is difficult for doctors and scientists to even know how to properly treat it. Just months after completing her graduate degree, the plan Ally had for herself changed, but her plan to help others did not.

“Even while she was sick, she was still raising money for other people who were in her situation,” Lisa Manz, a friend of Ally’s, said.
Now, her friends and family are carrying on her cause in her memory. Cancer took Ally’s life on Thanksgiving 2011, and her family and friends created a foundation that assists young adults facing the same challenges brought on by rare cancers.

Being a young adult when she was diagnosed, Ally’s struggles were unique. She had worries such as paying bills, getting a job and student loans, on top of having cancer. But still, Ally wanted to make sure no young adult had to deal with the things she was dealing with.
“She had so many financial burdens herself during this time, but yet she still wanted to help others and make it so nobody would have to go through what she was going through,” Katy Strong, Ally’s older sister said. “This is really the best indicator of who Allyson was and I would say these ideals of hers, really, were the birth of the Allyson Whitney Foundation.”

The Allyson Whitney Foundation ultimately grew out of Ally’s dream.

“Our vision is to improve the quality of life, as well as provide emotional support for patients,” the Foundation explains. “Primarily, the foundation provides individuals with grants to ease their financial burden in order to focus their energy on healing.”

According to Ally’s sister, the St. John’s community and the friends she made during her time at college made a huge impact on her life.

“She loved the diversity of the school and was proud to be a student there,” Young said. “She had the opportunity to attend the campus in Rome and travel all over Italy which was an amazing experience for her.”

This May, the Allyson Whitney Foundation will be hosting its second annual 5K run and walk in Sullivan County where Ally is from. According to Manz, this is the biggest fundraiser of the year. Last year, they raised more than $50,000 dollars. This year, Ally’s St. John’s friends will be some of the many participants.

“She absolutely loved St John’s,” Strong said. “It was one of the best decisions she ever made. She was fortunate enough to make really amazing friends.”

Ally always tried to remain positive during her illness, but it was not always easy.

“She made a decision early on that she wasn’t going to take this laying down and fought hard,” Strong said. “As with anyone who is diagnosed with cancer, she had her dark days, but in reality she was very brave and tried her best to stay positive.”

Ally was only 25 when she died.

“My sister was absolutely beautiful, both inside and out. Kind, caring, giving,” Strong said. “She loved to dance and she loved the sun. You can’t find a more beautiful soul than her’s.”

To date, the Allyson Whitney Foundation has granted 17 “Life Interrupted” Grants to young adults who are fighting a rare cancer, according to Strong.

“Cancer is expensive. Between treatments, hospital bills and doctors, it seems almost never ending, and all while fighting for your life,” Strong said. “Regardless, you still have to keep living – pay your rent, heat your house, pay your phone bills. With these grants, we hope that our young adults can concentrate their energy on healing rather than worrying about how to put food on their table.”

In addition, the Foundation has also granted money to the MD Anderson Cancer Center. The Center now has set up a database of SCCC patients from around the world. The hope is that databases like this will help doctors find a way to treat and cure the cancer.

The Allyson Whitney Foundation has a quote from Ally they often reflect on, “This was an experience that I was going to learn a lot from,” Ally said.
“And, I am going to use this experience and help others.”

In Ally’s short life, she helped many people; the foundation vows to continue on her legacy.

To learn how to get involved in the Allyson Whitney Foundation or for information about future events, Email [email protected]