The Inspiration - Allison's Story

written April 2020

Life has a way of turning your world upside down when you least expect it. This was the case for our family on February 18th, 2020. Just after 3pm I received a phone call from my sister, Allison, and assumed she was calling to catch up after us not being able to chat for a few weeks. After all, we come from a family of type-As who tend to lead lives that are just a little bit too busy. Quick hellos, while a luxury, did not happen as frequent as we would like.

They found a tumour in my brain.

Those are the only words I remember from our phone call. My world just stopped when I heard my sister say this. It wasn’t a flood of tears or a feeling of sadness. It was closer to a state of numbness. I remember telling her that I love her, hanging up and sitting in an empty meeting room at my office for what felt like an hour. I made an emotionless call to my fiancée, then took a long walk home. Half way home, with the gravity of the situation barely sinking in, I found a park bench, sat down and cried.

Before continuing it is worth describing who Allison is, although for those that knew her, you understand no words could fully do her justice. It would be easy to describe Allison as a 33 year old who balanced her life between raising three young kids while working at a successful not-for-profit and volunteering on the side. It would also be easy to describe her passion, confidence, sense of life, hell – even her fighter mentality. But none of that fully portrays how special of a person Allison truly is.

Allison was genuinely the most compassionate person I knew.


She is the person who, at 10, brought a 1-800# and binder full of information to our mom about sponsoring African children after seeing their living conditions on TV. She is the person who, at 21, moved halfway around the world to Varanasi, India and lived without running water so she could teach impoverished women how to read. She is the person who pushed me to be the best version of myself – and she was the reason I discovered our shared passion of running. She actually forced me to join our high school cross-country team through a week-long bombardment that ended in me caving in to join for ‘one practice’ (a classic example of her fighter mentality). 

She is a person who didn't deserve this draw in life. She shouldn't have got terminal brain cancer.

Unfortunately this is what she was dealt, and what started as a wide range of hopeful possibilities quickly became a series of worst-case outcomes. The tumor, which was discovered on the Tuesday was confirmed to be cancer on the Thursday. At the same time, the tumour was confirmed to be where the brain meets the brainstem, an area of the brain that is inoperable. A biopsy was scheduled for the following Wednesday that lasted for nearly 7 long hours, 3 of which were for a shunt to be placed in her brain that would help drain fluid forming around the tumor. While the operation was successful, the results of the biopsy were devastating. 

Grade 4. 

For the first time the realization slowly crept in that Allison, our fighter, was losing her hardest fight yet. In a span of 2 weeks Allison went from complaining of a headache while on a hike with her family to being told the average person with her form of cancer lives for 18 months.

Even after her 18 month diagnosis, the Cancer proved to be more aggressive than anyone initially anticipated. Symptoms came quickly and included memory loss, lack of mobility, difficulty speaking and a decline in her cognitive abilities. And when 6 weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment had minimal impact on her symptoms, Allison passed away peacefully on June 17th, 2020.

Essentially, cancer is a bitch.


I’m not sharing this story to look for sympathy or to vent my anger. This isn’t about me. I’m sharing this story because no 33 year-old mother of 3 should be diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. A husband should not become a widower while others his age are planning weddings. Three children, the youngest who is 1, shouldn’t have to grow up not knowing their mother.

While this journey makes you feel powerless at the best of times, it is not a journey unique to our family. Allison one of thousands of Canadians who is diagnosed with glioblastoma each year. Together, we can beat cancer and prevent other families from this same fate. This is why the Dunn family has created the Dunn With Cancer Run to raise money for brain cancer research. 

Why a run? Back to our shared passion, Allison and I always planned on running her first marathon side-by-side. We mentioned this first as a pipe-dream back in high school, but have since run races together and, during marathons that I have completed, Allison has always been the loudest member of my cheering section. After these races, we talked in length about the future marathon that we planned to complete together. 

So, while she won’t physically be there at the finish line, Allison will be running every step of the way with us in spirit. 

So join us in supporting Allison and let’s work together to raise money for brain cancer research.