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Local News

Minooka man builds a full life while fighting a rare cancer

Bill Allen didn’t let ACC interfere with his goals

Bill Allen poses with his wife, Ashliegh Allen.
Bill Allen poses with his wife, Ashliegh Allen.

MINOOKA – Bill Allen of Minooka was just 18 in the summer of 2006 when the severe jaw pain hit.

He was referred to a specialist in temporomandibular joint disorders. An MRI showed a tumor on his right salivary gland. A specialist removed the tumor, and a biopsy showed Bill had a rare glandular cancer: adenoid cystic carcinoma. It already was at stage 4.

Bill had only one thought.

“He was going to beat it,” said his mother, Carol Allen.

For a time, it seemed likely that Bill might do so. In September 2006, Bill began chemotherapy and radiation. A neuroma was removed from the surgery site the following December and, two years after that, two small tumors were removed from Bill’s left lung, followed by the removal of two nodes. In July 2012, another tumor was removed from the same lung.

But during that surgery, larger tumors in the lung and pleura were found. This meant surgery no longer was an option, and Bill had exhausted other cancer-fighting treatments, Carol said.

At that point, Bill turned to experimental treatments and clinical trials, and he continued to live his life.

“Unless you knew Bill on a personal level, you would have never known he had cancer,” Bill’s wife, Ashliegh Allen, wrote in an email.

Bill had grown up helping his parents on their farm. He belonged to 4-H. He played saxophone and violin in grade school, and he became an Eagle Scout. He played tennis while attending Joliet Catholic Academy, as well as worked for Minooka Pharmacy.

He continued working for the pharmacy while studying psychology at the University of St. Francis, where Bill also played tennis.

After graduation in 2010, Bill became employed by Costco Wholesale in Oak Brook. In 2013, Bill became a pharmacy training coordinator for Costco Wholesale and moved to Washington – all while fighting cancer.

“He wanted to be a regular guy,” Carol said. “I think it pushed him to work hard.”

Ashliegh said she began dating Bill in 2009 – when she was 19 and he was 22 – and married him in 2014. Early in their relationship, Bill offered Ashliegh a “Get out of jail free card.” She refused it, and she’s glad she did.

“I learned to trust him and put his needs before my own,” Ashliegh said.

Bill was an “outdoorsy” guy. He liked people watching, sitting outside and feeling the breeze, and visiting dog parks with his two dogs, Bailey, a 7-year-old poodle/bichon therapy dog; and a Lucy, a 3-year-old beagle dachshund.

Bill also had a sarcastic sense of humor and loved to tell jokes, Ashliegh said, but he mostly liked helping and hoped to earn his master’s degree in psychology. He was also a huge fan of Dave Matthews Band – to the point of attending many of the band’s concerts, even those overseas – and found encouragement in the music.

“He’d listen to Dave’s music when getting radiation treatments,” said Bill’s father, Charles Allen.

One of Bill’s favorite songs by the band was “#41,” which includes this verse: “I will go in this way. And find my own way out.” That summed up Bill’s logical, fighting approach to his disease, Ashliegh feels.

“There were plenty of times we both felt overwhelmed, but the thing about Bill is that he never wanted to give up,” Ashliegh said. “He swore he would fight to the end, and he did.”

Eventually, the cancer spread to Bill’s bones, Carol said, which was extremely painful for him. In 2015, Bill went on disability. He died Jan. 24, 2016, at age 29.

Ashliegh said his memory continues to inspire his family and friends.

“Bill is a light in this world,” she said.

The Attack ACC Foundation will hold its annual fundraiser on Sept. 11 at the Hickory Creek Preserve, Hickory Hollow, 10501 LaPorte Road in Mokena. For information, visit www.attackacc.org.

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or dunland@shawmedia.com.

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