Man diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, COVID-19 shares inspirational message to get others through tough times

MADISON, Wis. — The pandemic is reminding 43-year-old Derrick Allen of something we could all use a reminder of: Life is precious.

In May, Allen said he was laid off from his catering job at the Monona Terrace due to the pandemic. Shortly after, Allen said he started feeling stomach pains that he thought were stomach ulcers.

After a trip to the hospital with his wife, La Toya Moss, Allen discovered his stomach pains were a symptom of stage 4 inoperable pancreatic and liver cancer.

“I’ve learned a lot of life lessons in a short amount of time,” Allen said.

About a week after his cancer diagnoses, Allen had to take a COVID-19 test to be admitted to his next appointment.

“I went to take the COVID test. The nurses called me later and said I was positive. My heart dropped,” he said.

Allen said he was already going through rough times before all of this. Last year, Allen and his wife lost their newborn son.

“He was a preemie,” Allen said.  “He only lived for 14 days and then my sister passed away of lung cancer.”

During Allen’s 14-day quarantine after testing positive for COVID, he was left sitting with all of this weighing heavily on his mind.

“I remember going down in my basement and screaming because I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I was just upset and afraid of dying. I’m not working, I’m unemployed, I got cancer and don’t know which stage I’m in. On top of that I witnessed George Floyd’s death on TV which took a lot out of me being a Black man with Black boys.”

Allen said while he was quarantined, he had a lot of time to reflect and look inside himself for strength. He said to help him get out of a constant state of stress, depression and anxiety, he started meditating and engaging in self-care practices.

“My goal is ultimately to live,” Allen said. “That is my ultimate goal. To cure myself, to heal myself so I can heal others and share my story of how I beat cancer, how I got through the pandemic, how I got through COVID. That’s the only thing that keeps me going.”

Allen said a close friend of his recently died of a heart attack and his friend’s poor diet contributed to his declining health. Allen said when considering his own health and reflecting on the value of life, he decided to change the way he lives his life by changing his diet, switching to juicing and eating healthy, meditating, taking supplements, doing acupuncture, getting massages and taking different types of Chinese medicine.

“This cancer is really a blessing because it changed my lifestyle,” Allen said. “My goal is to one day be able to put together, especially for men of color who don’t really look after their health like they should, and have something to inspire someone to live healthier and live a meditation lifestyle.”

Allen’s wife has been by his side through the whole journey. She said, “It’s scary but you also try to remove a lot of those scary thoughts, because you know, in the end, we are not in control. There’s hope within anything. The scary part because he’s 43, is that Chadwick Boseman just passed away at 43 of cancer and now this cancer has gone from his pancreas to his liver and now it’s attacking his stomach. We are on treatments but you don’t know if this treatment is going to affect it. We have to wait another month. It’s one of those things you get up every day, you put your best foot forward. You just have to plummet through. Even though you have cancer, there’s someone else who is going through something worse than what you’re going through.”

Allen said doctors haven’t told him a date as to when his last days could be. But in the meantime, Allen said he’s not waiting for that information to decide to start living life the way he wants.

“It changed my lifestyle because without cancer, without the pandemic, without COVID, I would still be working and not have time out for myself. I did so many years taking care of everybody else and not investing in me.”

Despite not knowing what the future holds, Allen said he is “without a doubt” that he will survive this and live to share his powerful message with others.

“I’m a fighter. I’ve been fighting all my life. I grew up in Chicago around poverty and violence. When I was an adolescent I was homeless until I moved here when I was 22 years old. Growing up in Chicago, that’s all I did was survive and fight to live. And this right here, I have no doubt in my mind that I’m going to survive this because of my state of mind.”

If you would like to help Allen’s family pay for their incurring medical bills, you can donate through their GoFundMe page here.