METHUEN — Allison Hawkes is a Methuen High senior, a busy athlete and cochair of the city's Relay for Life Event.
At 18, she is also a three-time cancer survivor and, according to one of her teachers, a symbol of the whole purpose for organizing something like the Relay, which raises money for the American Cancer Society for cancer research.
"The reason we do it is success stories like Allie," said Carol Guselli, a faculty advisor and event coordinator with fellow high school teacher David LaCroix for the Methuen Relay for Life.
Hawkes is one of three cochairs of the Methuen Relay for Life, one of the few student-run Relay events in the country, and has been getting more and more involved over the last four years. She, senior Eric LaCroix and junior Jake Fabrizio are this year's chairs.
"It's something I could give back," Hawkes said.
"It's awful,'' she said of the disease, "and I don't want anybody else to have to go through that."
In kindergarten, Hawkes was diagnosed with a neuroblastoma tumor, a recurring cancer that grows on nerve cells and usually affects infants and children, according to the National Institutes of Health. The tumor grew to stage four by the time it was discovered, meaning it was spreading to other organs, and had pressed into her kidney, which had to be removed.
Hawkes doesn't remember much about that first round of treatment, other than bits and pieces, such as her mother's shock at the diagnosis, feeling sick constantly, so many nights in the hospital that they all ran together, making a paper Christmas tree in her hospital room.
After nine hours of surgery, she endured a harsh round of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. While it was difficult, she came through it with a clean bill of health.