TLC star Lori Allen chronicles her breast cancer battle in “Say Yes to the Cure: Lori’s Fight”

say yes to the dress lori allen

As the owner of Atlanta’s Bridals By Lori, Lori Allen — the sunny, spunky and beloved star of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta and Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids — has helped many brides whose lives and families have been affected by breast cancer. On April 13 of this year, Allen, 53, learned she, too, would battle the disease.

“I got the phone call at 7:05am and it felt like somebody had hit me on the side of the head,” Allen recalls of the early-stage cancer caught by a routine 3D mammogram and follow-up MRI. “For days, I couldn’t tell anybody. I told my immediate family, but I couldn’t even get the words out of my mouth, that I had breast cancer. I couldn’t verbalize it. I just couldn’t speak the words.”

Once the news settled in, Allen realized that she had a unique platform to share a story common to the more than 200,000 women a year who will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I feel like we’re not as open about it as we should be,” she explains. “I’m not ashamed that I have breast cancer! If we can turn something negative into something positive as a group of women, what better gift is there than that?”

Allen decided to turn her own journey into the Oct. 26 special Say Yes to the Cure: Lori’s Fight that chronicles the twists and turns in Allen’s treatment and recovery, which began with a double lumpectomy. “I was going to have six weeks of radiation and then be on the anti-cancer pills for a long time after that,” Allen says. “That was the plan. I thought, ‘I’m going to get this over with and it’s going to be fine.’ And you’ll see in the show that it doesn’t work that way. Cancer doesn’t work that way. Everybody’s path is different, and that’s something we talk about.”

Allen also welcomed the ability to let her family and friends give voice to their own experience with her illness. “My children are in the special. My husband is in the special. My parents are in the special. And the people that I work with,” she says. “The reason that we did that is because they’re all affected by my cancer.”

Few more so than Allen’s pal, coworker and viewer-favorite costar Monte Durham.

“We’re best friends, and he really had a hard time articulating to me how heartbroken he was,” Allen says. “So what he started doing was every day he sent me a different card. Every day! Some days they’d say, ‘Get your ass back to work!’ and the next day, it would say, ‘I love you with all my heart.’ But it was always how he was feeling — he would write it in those cards!”

Allen generously took time out of her busy schedule to talk about her diagnosis, her decision to do the special … and why you’ll never catch this steel magnolia saying that cancer is the best thing that ever happened to her!

Channel Guide Magazine: First of all, how are you doing?
Lori Allen: I’m doing good! I’m 12 weeks out now and getting stronger every day! I’m doing very well.

CGM: I’m a breast cancer survivor, too — there’s nothing quite as shocking as having to apply the word “cancer” to yourself, is there?
LA: 
No one was more shocked than myself! I have always been so healthy — I look like the picture of health right now [laughs]! I mean, I just have been a healthy eater. I take regular long walks with my little Bichon a couple of times a day and have just always taken care of myself. And then to find out that something like this is lurking in your body was just absolutely shocking for me.

It took me a while to get where I could even tell people, because I did not want anyone to feel sorry for me — and I never want to come across as weak. That’s just not me. I like to be strong. I like to be in control. I like to be in charge, you know? But, of course, I had to learn that sometimes you’re not always in control. And sometimes you have to rely on your faith and the people around you to get you through these times. There’s times in your faith where you have to show that you trust. You have to trust your doctors. You have to trust your business associates to take care of things for you.

CGM: As much as you are willing to share, what came after that phone call?
LA: 
I had an MRI and they also found atypical cells in my other breast. So that raised concerns. I decided on the lumpectomy because I am not an impulsive person at all — and I think you see that on the show. I like to think things through and not do anything rash. So I decided I was going to get the lumpectomy, and I had it on both sides.

I was very fortunate, because it had not gone into my lymph nodes yet. That was due to the fact that it was detected early. I had the new 3D mammogram and they caught my cancer early.

CGM: But that wasn’t the end of the story …
LA: After the lumpectomy, I still had atypical cells sitting outside of a cancer site, and they were very concerned about it. So my options were to go in and have another lumpectomy — remember I had atypical cells on the other side also — and if I had another lumpectomy and they still didn’t feel like they got all the cells then I would definitely have to have a mastectomy. Or I could just go ahead and get a double mastectomy.

So I really struggled with that in the show, with what to do. I end up having a double mastectomy and actually came to find out later — because they send your tissue for pathology reports — that that was the right thing to do. Because the atypical cells were all over the breast. They could have never gotten it with another lumpectomy.

I have another surgery in December. It’s been a long road. By the time I get through the second surgery in December, I will have been dealing with this for eight months. And this from a person who hasn’t missed a day of work in five years — that’s how healthy and strong I am. But when you get cancer, your whole life changes.

CGM: Literally overnight. I remember just being stunned at what my days instantly turned into and thinking, “This is never going to work, because I have so much other stuff I have to do!”
LA [laughing]: I know! The crazy thing about it is, at the very beginning you’re like, “How am I going to fit this into my schedule?!” You’re not worried about your health — it’s like, “My schedule! How’m I going to fit this in?!” My surgeon was thinking, “You are a nut!” Because I was like, “I’ve got two shows to film, I’ve got a business to run … “ And he’s like, “Honey, this is cancer.”

CGM: How did you decide that you were willing to chronicle your journey for the TLC cameras?
LA: The reason that I wanted to do this is because I wanted to take something very negative, and trying to find a reason for this — Why did I get cancer? Why do I have cancer? — so I’m trying to find a reason for this in my head. And I thought, “Well, why do I have two TV shows? I’m just a normal working mom here, so why do I have two TV shows?” And then it dawns on me — maybe I have cancer to tell this story. And maybe this story will help somebody facing what I’m facing be less afraid. Because, honey, I’m a big chicken! I don’t like doctors! I don’t like going to the doctor. I hate it! Right now I still hate it! But I got through it, and I got through it with flying colors. And I think if I can get through this, anybody can get through this.

CGM: Sounds like you’re showing some of the tough stuff, too …
LA: Some days were difficult to film. Some days I thought, “Oh, gosh, do I have to film this? I don’t want to film this!” But then I realized that this has got to be told. This story needs to be told. During this year alone over 200,000 women are going to be diagnosed with cancer. I’m just one of the faces of these 200,000 women who are going to be diagnosed with cancer. But my platform is, I’m able to tell the story and maybe help them. Maybe this will just hold their hand a little bit.

And it does need to be told. I know when I first told some people, they were so upset, they wouldn’t even look me in the eye. Like in the business environment when I was still working. I think it upset them so that they just didn’t know what to say and they couldn’t look me in the eye to speak. And you just want to say, “Hey, I’m still here. And I need for you to look me in the eye. I’m a person and I do have this wrong with me, but I’m facing it and I don’t want to be weak. So look me in the eye to talk to me!” It really, really bothered me, you know?

I think it’s because they’re so sad for you, and they think that you have one foot in the grave because you have cancer, and they’re so scared and they just won’t look you in the eye! You’ve got to uplift women. I wanted to be around people — well, Monte, for instance. He was like, “You’re going to be OK. You’re going to kick this in the ass. And you’re going to get through this.” I need that kind of people around me. I don’t want people saying, “Oh you poor little thing. I’m so sorry!” I don’t want that! Mmm-mmm! That just makes me feel sorry for myself and have a pity party — and I do not want a pity party. Don’t need one!

CGM: You actually tell your Bridals By Lori staff with the cameras rolling …
LA:
That was one of the hardest days of my life! And the reason why is Bridals By Lori is something near and dear to my heart. I started my store right out of college and I’ve never really left it. Of course I’ve gone on vacation and this that and the other. But for long periods of time? For the period of time that I’m going to have to be out for breast cancer — and to know that?

And these people that I work with — these people are an extended part of my family. I love these people. And I knew they were really going to be upset, and I knew they were going to be afraid for not only what I was facing, but also for what was going to happen in the store. I was putting a heavy load and burden onto them, which really bothered me more than anything with breast cancer — all the burden I put on my family, all the burden I put on coworkers. But you can’t help it. There’s nothing you can do. You’ve just got to.

It made it that much more difficult to do, but then on the flipside of it, it was almost like therapy for me to go and sit in the room and talk to Jen Holbach, who is our executive producer and has been right by my side through this. She was at every single doctor’s appointment, she was at every single interview with me — so I’m sure she feels like she’s got breast cancer, too [laugh].

I’d ask something and she’d go, “No Lori, they said this.” Because I was on Mars by the time they finished telling me what they were going to do to me. So to do it in such a public platform made it a little more difficult — but then when I went into the room and sat down and could talk about it and articulated my feelings, it almost was like therapy for me.

CGM: That’s important — being able to give voice to exactly what you are feeling.
LA:
I articulated things that you never say. “Yes, I’m afraid. Yes, I’m afraid I won’t be here next month. Yes, I’m afraid I won’t be here next year.” Things like that, that you are scared about and we all face when we are diagnosed. That part was really hard sometimes.

CGM: Do you expect to hear from the multiple brides who’ve dealt with cancer in one form or another that you’ve helped over the years on Say Yes to the Dress?
LA: When a bride would come in and her mother had died, I always felt a special connection to her, because I wanted to take away her pain and maybe to try to fill in a little bit as her mother. I always have. I’ve always gone the extra mile with a bride whose mother has faced breast cancer — and we’ve had many of them. I just want to be there for her and hold her hand.

One of my favorite brides was Julie Fillmore — her mother died of breast cancer three weeks before she came in, and my heart just went out to her. The whole time she was shopping, she was upset and I could tell she was upset. We just tried to make it a pleasant experience for her and then when she had her fitting I stayed right down there with her. I just wanted to make sure that she had somebody there that if she had any concerns she could bounce them off me like she would her mother.

She heard about the breast cancer and she reached out to me and said, “I’m just so upset!” But I feel like she and I had a special connection for a reason and I feel like that reason is because she needed me — and really I needed her, too. I did! Because I saw how strong she was in her appointment and how life goes on! And she got through this, so I’m thinking in my head, “You know, I can do this too!”

CGM: Have you returned to work yet?
LA:
After about five weeks after my surgery, I started going back a little bit at a time. I was still very weak, so I started going back a little bit and a little bit at a time. And I am now back about three-quarters of the day.

I’m not rushing myself! I’m letting my body heal and I’m working slowly into getting back into the groove of things. I will never, ever say that this was the best thing that’s ever happened to me, because I don’t get people who say that. That’s just not me. But I will say that cancer has made me stop and smell the roses.  I’m not going to rush through my days like a rat trying to get over here and do this and do that. I’m not doin’ it!

So I think that of the journey of cancer — and I don’t get that calling it a journey because I’ll never use that as a trip again, I’ll tell you that! — but of the journey of cancer, I do think that that is the most valuable lesson that I have learned from it. To appreciate every day and get up and be thankful you’re here. We’re always going to have to go back to the oncologist. We’re always going to have to go back to the surgeon. We’re always going to have to get checked. But that’s OK. We’re just going to consider it like a dentist appointment!

CGM: Yeah, you won’t catch me saying cancer’s the best thing that happened to me either, But it does do a really good job of helping you recognize what a problem — and a blessing — really is.
LA: My plastic surgeon said something interesting to me. She said, “You know, some people completely change their lives after cancer. They’ll go skydiving, they’ll change their careers, they get a divorce — they completely change their life. And I thought to myself, “Well, I wouldn’t change a thing! I love my life. I’m very happily married. I have a fabulous career. I love filming Say Yes to the Dress. I have fabulous friends.”

What I’m going to change is I’m going to appreciate everything even more!

 Say Yes to the Cure: Lori’s Fight airs Friday, Oct. 26 at 10/9CT.

22 Comments

  1. I admire your courage . I have had lumps not yet cancer thank God your special was very meaningful Will pray for you In our church we have a lady who had a lumpectomy She was luckier than you I will tell her to watch your special God bless LOVE YOU SHARRON

  2. Thank you for your courage in sharing your breast cancer surgery with us. Those of us who know what you’re going through and those of us who can’t imagine the fear in your heart are all routing for you.

    You are amazing and a true inspiration!

    God Bless!

  3. Thank you Lori for your courage. I’m not sure I could allow cameras in my surgical journey……you’re amazing and an inspiration to all of us.

    God Bless!

  4. Our daughter was diagnosed in 2007 at the age of 37 and I was diagnosed in 2009. We both had a lumpectomy and chemotherapy followed by radiation. I have since had a double mastectomy and reconstruction and we are both cancer free. I want to thank you for doing the show on your cancer experience and I know it will help countless women in the same situation who now know that this can be overcome. Best wishes for a full recovery.

  5. Lori, I am watching your story right now. I think I have cried 7 different times already. It brings back so many memories and my aches for any woman who has to battle this disease. I was diagnosed at 38, 3 years ago. You made the right decision in getting a bi-lateral!!! I did the same, my future was too importnant. I am grateful you shared your story, and so much of it. It takes over a year of your life away, it’s a fight, it’s a change for life. You were courageous, and strong. Keep fighting, stay strong (and cry too). If you can find a breast cancer support group, it is truly helpful. I am very independent and busy, so are you, the support group helps. God bless you and good luck with healing mentally and physically.

  6. I have never had to personally deal with breast cancer, but I have had to deal with cancer in my family. I admire you for showing this difficult phase of your life and I appreciate your awesome attitude towards life. Praying for you!

  7. Lori, I just want you to know I’m praying for you and that God is holding you close. I watch and enjoy your program and your wonderful spirit shows just how hard you’re fighting this dread disease. Just know you are’t along.

  8. Hey Lori, am coming up on 22 years breast cancer free. It was a struggle, but you can do it. God Bless.

  9. Lori
    My prayers are with you & your family. I will be an 8 year breast cancer survivor in November. My cancer was found when I had a breast reduction. My doctor said that I was very lucky that it was found at an early stage. I went through 6weeks of radiation . So take one day at a time & live it to the fullest. Love you, Lori

  10. My husband and I love your show. We love the way you and Monte are so fun loving and try to make everyone who comes in your store feel special. We also appreciate your southern belle tell it like it is attitude! We are praying for you and your family and friends as you continue to become stronger everyday. You inspire us!

  11. Lori..I love you, your staff and your show..watch it faithfully. My prayers are with you, your family and staff as you go thru these difficult times. Love you, Connie Jo

  12. maybe next year we can all do a walk , dressed in bridal dresses ( resale shop ) dyed pink or something
    team lori 🙂

    ms. lori , you are added to the lsit at night , best to you and youre family always

    • That is the best idea I’ve ever heard. It would be so uplifting. I don’t think anyone could do it and not be smiling.

  13. I also have breast cancer was diagnosised May 2012. It is a life changing experience. It not only affected me but my family and friends. I am half way thru chemo. It has been an experience. They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. How true this is. If ever you need to vent just email me.I also lost my hair which was a very hard thing for me. I know it grows back but it was still very hard. God bless you and we will be praying for you.

  14. Lori, I am waiting to see your show. I was diagnosed November 2009 with Breast cancer. My faith and family have brought me thru a difficult time. You can do so much just doing this show, no matter how difficult it was to film. I know all women dealing with breast cancer appreciate you opened up your personal life for this one program

  15. I watch/tape your show every week in hopes that myself, my 21 and my 19 year old daughters will get to shop at Bridals by Lori when their “big day” comes. I am an 18 year Breast Cancer survivor. I was 32 and my girls were only 3 and 1 when I was diagnosed. I have learned not to take anything for granted and am blessed that I have been able to see my little girls grow into beautiful young women.
    We will see you in a few years or so and until then,
    God Bless.

  16. Tis the month of pink, the month that I was diagnosed with breast cancer 9 years ago. Every year at this time I so remember what I went through. So it has been a mission of mine to reach out and give words of encouragment to special people who has this battle to fight. I love your show and you are one funky cool lady. But cancer has no bounds. So I am sending this message to tell you. The fight will be long but you will become a survivor just like me. Good Luck Lorie. My prayers and thoughts will be with you as you start this journey in your life.

  17. I from her surgery
    love your spirit and your strength.
    You are an inspiration to so very many wo9men and men.
    I took this journey with my mom many, many years ago and I had to take care of her at home and strip her tubesthat were still in place following her surgery. I was there from the time she got the news, through her surgery to her reconstructive surgery and it was hard to be cheerful and look her in the eye and tell her that she was going to be fine and see the fear in her eyes. I remember doing comic routines for her, giving her report cards for eating well and just being with her every day. It was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do and no, cancer is not a trip, it is something I would never wish for anyone to have to go through or ever experience. So my admiration for you is great and the fact that you stood strong ad told your story is just bravery at its finest and best. Love you, Lori.

  18. As we started planning our wedding, I found out I had breast cancer. We put our wedding aside to concentrate on my fight. I can’t wait to start planning again. I’m almost half way through my chemo and should be done with chemo on Dec. 27th. Hopefully by summer 2013 I will be well enough to start planning again. I love this show. Lori, good luck to you in your fight.

    • I am a 41 year breast cancer survivor. My prayers are with you. I consider myself so lucky to have discovered it so early.

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About Lori Acken 1195 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.