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Survivor of rare eye cancer possibly linked to Auburn speaks about faith's role in her recovery

During our investigation into Auburn's Uveal Melanoma, we've introduced you to one of the five people from a possible cancer cluster in the city who was being treated in Philadelphia at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Lori Lee.

RELATED: CBS 42 Investigates: Rare cancer found in 5 with ties to Auburn

We also shared the story of Susan Roberts McWilliams, whose husband passed away after his battle with this cancer: she first alerted us to this accumulation of patients in 2017.

Now, we have the story of another one of those five peculiar cases of uveal melanoma that have been diagnosed in people with ties to Auburn: Allyson Allred.

Back in 1992 during her time in college, she was Allyson Armistead, who was engaged as a student and would eventually become the wife and mother she is today.

I sat down with Allred in her home the day after our CBS 42 investigation aired on the clustering of uveal melanoma cases in Auburn.

Allred already knew about the cases. She's been living with this rare aggressive cancer for 16 and a half years.

"I was diagnosed in 2001, so Julie was diagnosed in 1999," Allred said.

Julie is a third friend of hers that was diagnosed with uveal melanoma too.

"We've bonded to say the least," Allred said. "Each one of us had ours in a different location in the eye."

Three women from the same college at the same time with the same cancer. They've created the Auburn Ocular Melanoma Facebook page to help raise awareness about this rare cancer and encourage people to have annual dilated eye exams. 

"In my eye, I was noticing some mild flashes of light," Allred said. "Really mild, like as if someone had just taken a picture. One day, it was on a Saturday, I realized I had lost a little bit of vision."

Allred's retina had become detached. 

"[The doctor] said it's detached because there is a 10-millimeter melanoma sitting on it."

That incident led her to Philadelphia at the Wheel's Eye Hospital, then the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where another Auburn grad, Lori Lee, is receiving treatment with doctors Takami Sato and Marlana Orloff

"Dr. Orloff had the aha moment," Allred said. "She said, 'This is very interesting, we need to look into this more.' So that's when Julie and Ashley and I started talking more about things."

Each has been living with this rare cancer of the eye that is hard to contain once it spreads.

"[They've found it in my] liver twice, ovary, a spot on the breast twice, a bowel obstruction from scar tissue from a previous surgery," Allred said. "And right now, two places behind my kidney, one behind my diaphragm and one behind my thyroid."

Allred's faith teaches her all things are possible.

"I really give God all the glory to carry us through this, that the only way I've gotten through 16 and a half years, because it shouldn't be honestly, it should have gone this way for these things to keep popping up," Allred said. "And then they tell me, Dr. Orloff tells me, I was in less than one percent response rate so they don't see this often. And it's really nothing but the Lord choosing to continue healing me, and we have a huge body of prayer that lifts us up thousands and we feel that."

Some of those who pray for her do something else for her: send rainbows.

She has a large rainbow hanging in her home that is filled with color, written prayers, and the handprints of children in the class she volunteers for.

"The rainbow is really interesting," Allred said. "It's God's promise of his faithfulness"

Three and a half years ago, when her cancer came back she had been praying for a rainbow.

"I told my family I think we might see a rainbow on the way to prayer service," Allred said. "So we walk out of Zaxby's where we ate, there was a rainbow that started there and went all the way to the church. I said, 'This is it we saw it all together we'll always remember this'."

There is a saying with Auburn fans who marvel at colors of the sky, one we find to be true among this group of women fighting this rare cancer:

"The sky is a little more blue and a little more orange," Allred said.

So a week ago, when Allred started radiation to treat those new cancer spots she mentioned, it happened again.

"[I] prayed for a rainbow and didn't see it, but they brought this one over, and her sweet daughter sent a picture from auburn of a double rainbow," Allred said.

This picture is so much more than a rainbow in the clouds over Jordan-Hare

"This was like a double reminder from the lord," Allred said. "'I am faithful, I'm going to carry you through.' So the rainbows are real symbolic for me of the Lord's faithfulness."


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