While a junior at Oklahoma State University, Kelly Allen decided her dating life needed a change. No more loudmouth, full-of-themselves guys.
She was going to find a quiet, nice guy. She met Matt at a sorority and fraternity function.
"Why he struck me as quiet ... I’ll never know,” she said.
"That’s a word never used to describe me,” Matt Allen said.
Sometimes, nice is enough.
"So, we went out on a date,” he said, "and I never went out on a date with anybody else ever again.”
"Me either,” she said.
They married June 1, 1991, about two weeks after she graduated.
How they envisioned their lives together couldn’t have included what they’re enduring now. Last September, Matt was diagnosed with grade 3 brain cancer. He literally was running up and down a football field a few hours before a throbbing headache began that forced him to the doctor the next morning, and then to the hospital that night.
He thought it was a sinus headache, aggravated by all the dust he was stirring up as he tore out the tile in their house.
Sinuses didn’t cause the headache. At the hospital, doctors kept asking his wife questions about family history and cancer. "There’s no cancer in Matt’s family,” she said.
Too soon, it all made sense. She was told he had a tumor. The scan was wrong, she kept thinking. Maybe it was a shadow. Then she saw the scan, showing a tumor the size of her fist.
"It was a bad guy,” Matt said.
Surgery required 5½ hours to remove most of the malignant, aggressive tumor that had pushed his brain into the shape of a boomerang.
He has since had seven weeks of radiation, and the Allens have experienced an outpouring of love and support from family, friends and community. They also knew they were strong enough to be in control.
"The very first oncologist that we met told us he had less than a year to live,” she said. "Basically told us to go home and hug our kids and buy more life insurance. We didn’t like that attitude, so we found another doctor who has helped us come up with a plan, encouraged us to work with M.D. Anderson in Houston, and like everything else in this process, we’ve been able to surround ourselves with positive people who have hope and people who are working towards that,” she said.
The Edmond couple wouldn’t accept anything less.
"That’s who I am,” he said. "I am that guy. I always see the bright side. I always am half full. ... Even if it’s a half a percent, that’s what I will focus on. ... There are two things you can take to the bank about me: I will always be positive, and if you make it a game, you make it a competition, I play to win.”
The couple like to remind their children that you can’t always choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you react to it.
"You can choose your attitude,” Kelly said, echoing an often-repeated sentiment of Matt’s. "We certainly can’t pretend we’re perfect, and I can’t tell you that I get up every day and smile through it, because we don’t. I want our kids to know that we have rough days, too, and I have bad days, and we work though that.”
As long as someone’s telling them there’s hope, that’s whom they choose to listen to. A positive attitude strengthens them.
"The last five months haven’t defined who we are,” Kelly said. "I think the previous 18 years have helped build us for the last five months.”
"Sure, I’m going through a little adventure,” Matt said, "but I’m still getting good news.”
Kelly is a teacher at Rosary Catholic School in Oklahoma City; Matt sells pharmaceuticals for Glaxo Smith Kline. Their daughter, Taylor, is 15; their son, Chris, is 12.
Even before they had children, Matt coached sports. He believes in the life lessons that can be learned.