Let me start out this post by painting a picture in your mind. She is a woman in her late 20s, who has a college education, has already held a department chair position at work, is currently working on her Master’s Degree, has bought a home, is in a healthy, loving relationship, and who is an amazing aunt, daughter, sister, and friend. Sounds like a gal who has had a pretty easy, great life right?
This gal (who shares an awkward age with me not being a “girl” but sounds like I’m aging her if I keep calling her a “woman,” ha! Enter “gal.”) is one of my dearest friends, Miss Alison Coleman. I met her through student government at the University of Arizona (Go Cats!) and have been inspired by her each passing year. I feel honored to share her story.
Alison had what most would consider as a very challenging childhood. Her parents divorced shortly after she was born, and her mom raised her as a single parent living in a very, very rough area of Tucson, Arizona. Her father was an addict. Unfortunately, due to his addiction, he was unpredictable and unreliable throughout her life, and eventually through to the end of his own. Fortunately, Alison was extremely blessed with a strong, resilient mother. And with a strong role model and leader in her life, Alison decided very early on that she would not be just another statistic. She was not going to “turn out” like many children do when they grow up in a life like hers. She refused to be defined by her circumstances.
Her love of learning excelled her into a magnet high school, college, and soon, her love of mentoring paved the way to becoming a teacher. Alison’s first job as a teacher gave her a tangible link from her past to her present, as she worked with students from extremely troubled home lives. Their circumstances, unfortunately, “Miss Coleman,” could not fix. But she was able to demonstrate compassion, empathy, structure and feelings of safety, acceptance and community for those kids. She was living proof, walking the walk and not just talking the talk for these kids to know what they were capable of if they chose to not let their current circumstances determine their destinies. I truly cannot imagine how many drops in the water Alison made, that surely led to ripple effects beyond what her eye could ever see in those kids’ lives.
Year three of being a science department chair (NBD) came, and Alison experienced a life-changing, excruciating pain in her lower abdomen region. After being taken to the hospital and running all of the scans, she was found to have an EIGHT POUND tumor. Even more terrifying, you guys, it was malignant. After an invasive surgical removal was completed, it was the start of a long recovery to her body feeling even somewhat “normal” again. What Alison spoke to, beyond the pain, was how challenging it was to accept that she had had cancer (spoiler alert – Alison is in remission, praise God!), and that she had to do everything possible to try as she could to prevent it from recurring. Mid 20s. Swim coach, teacher, leader, athlete. Cancer. And maybe the hardest part of it all? Going from pouring into others -always,- to being forced to put yourself and your health first.
Remember back to the beginning of this post when I shared the profile of a gal who just seemed to be crushing it at life? Living that “instagram, picture perfect” type of life? Now you know her story. Actually, just a small part of it! Whenever I see or talk to Alison, she exudes humility, strength, gentleness, intentionality, other-centeredness, and dang-it she is proud of her scars and the woman she is! It started with the strength of her mother, and that strength was passed along, and exponentially increased in her daughter. Take a moment and reflect on this thought – the power you have to make a positive impact on someone is 100x greater by simply LIVING the life you want to inspire others to lead. They will see your actions so much louder than they hear your words.
My hope is that you read Alison’s story and realize that we can ACCEPT our past, process through it and embrace how it may have shaped us, but know that it does not DEFINE us. This girl has been through trauma and grief unlike most will know in most of their lifetime by age 29, and yet, she chooses to march on. She takes on each new challenge with a strong and grace-filled heart, and never lets fear win the war. Love ya girl. I’m so proud to call you my dear friend.
XoXo Lindsey Sholtis