EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 21, 2014

Four-time cancer survivor to receive Cam Neely Award

By Douglas Moser
dmoser@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — Someone asked Christen Hawkes how she kept a sense of normalcy as her daughter Allison battled cancer for the fourth time.

“I said she does it,” Hawkes said. “She knows where she wants to be and she goes there.”

Allison Hawkes, 19, is recovering from a fourth bout with cancer, and the first bone cancer. It was detected just after she graduated from high school, delaying her start to college by a year.

Despite several surgeries, a slow rehabilitation and difficulty getting around, she started her freshman year at Wheelock College last September.

Her determination through her treatments and surgeries, for osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, and through her three other victories over neuroblastoma, caught the eye of her nurses and doctors at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, which will present Allison Hawkes with its annual Cam Neeley Award for Courage in March.

During her senior year at Methuen High School, in the 2011-12 school year, Allison Hawkes co-chaired the local annual Relay for Life event, went to the senior prom and enrolled in early childhood education at Wheelock College in Boston.

But over the summer of 2012, after graduation, Christen noticed a large bump on Allison’s right leg near the knee. Tests detected that it was a new kind of cancer than the neuroblastoma she had beaten three times since she was a toddler.

It meant another year of chemotherapy. It meant a decision about whether to keep her leg below the knee. It meant a year of uncertainty as she faced a new type of cancer. And it meant her life was on hold one more time. Her friends went off to college while she returned to Floating Hospital for Children.

“It took a huge toll on me emotionally and physically, going back to the hospital and not being able to have my life,” she said. “That was the worst part.”

But she said she used that — the next step in life suddenly put on hold — to keep driving forward. In 2012, she took 10 weeks of chemotherapy before an 11-hour surgery that removed about four inches of her tibia, the larger front bone of the lower leg. It was replaced with a donor bone that will remain fragile.

“They told me I couldn’t ski or skydive,” Hawkes said. “So I signed up to skydive right away.” The trip was canceled because of weather, however, and she couldn’t go before the surgery.

The surgery itself represented a choice Hawkes made to keep her own leg, rather than go for amputation and a prosthetic. She wanted to keep her own leg, even though it would be a more difficult recovery. “It would have been easier, but I wanted to keep my own leg,” she said.

After that surgery, with a donor tibia knitting to her own and a skin graft healing over the large incision, Hawkes was confined to bed, her leg in a heavy cast, unable to do much on her own as she endured another 29 weeks of chemo and two follow up surgeries. Hawkes had to help her do nearly everything.

“Someone as independent as her, that’s about as hard as it can get,” she said.

Eventually last year she began physical therapy, but was in a wheelchair. By March, she graduated from the cast and wheelchair into a brace and crutches and gained strength in her leg – just in time for school. Ditching the brace and relying solely on the crutches, she was ready to go.

During orientation, Hawkes was on her feet for nearly four days. “I could have sat down, but I didn’t want to,” she said.

Hawkes will receive the award at Tufts Medical Center’s annual Working Wonders fundraising benefit on March 26 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

The award is named for the NHL Hall of Famer, president of the Boston Bruins and founder of The Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care. It honors individuals who courageously battle cancer or other serious diseases or caregivers who have selflessly provided comfort to those with such illnesses.

Tufts Medical Center created the award in 2012 to celebrate The Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care’s generosity to the Medical Center. The  Foundation has given more than $27 million to the Medical Center throughout their 18-year partnership.

Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.