Justin Allen's Battle Against Cancer Helps Another Student

March 25, 2002

(Netitor Note: Justin Allen will receive a Gene Autry Courage Award at the ninth annual presentation tonight at the Tempe Mission Palms for his battle against Hodgkin's Disease. Arash Markazi, a former ASU student who now writes for the USC student paper, turned to Justin when he found out he had the same disease last year. The following is a story written by Markazi that appeared in the USC paper on Feb. 14, the day ASU played at USC. Markazi is progressing well and was able to see Justin that night.

Allen is one of four recipients for the awards. Also honored will be former major league pitcher Jim Abbott who was born without a right hand, 17-year old golfer Mallory Code who battles cystic fibrosis and diabetes, and Police Sgt. John McLoughlin, who survived the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11. He was one of the last people found alive.

The ceremony begins at 6 p.m. at the Tempe Mission Palms. About $100,000 will be raised and benefit scholarship programs for minority students at Arizona's three state universities, selected colleges and a variety of youth charities. For more information, contact 480-350-8824.)

ASU forward a true inspiration off the court

by Arash Markazi, USC Daily Trojan (Published Feb. 14, 2002).

Sometimes we learn lessons from the most unassuming people. Someone we never thought twice about can change the way we look at life. I never envisioned this happening to me while covering sports - not by some college athlete.

But it did.

His name is Justin Allen and he helped me get through the toughest fight of my life.

Allen plays basketball for Arizona State. A lanky kid from Malta, Ill., he was one of six freshmen who ASU coach Rob Evans recruited in 1999. He usually rides the bench, but his easygoing personality and warm sense of humor make him a team favorite.

Asked what the greatest moment was in his career, Justin didn't hesitate to answer.

'It had to be the game against California in 2000 when Eddie House and I combined for 64 points,' he said.

House scored 61 points that game.

As a student at ASU at the time and the beat writer for the men's basketball team, I knew Justin and most of the players on the team well. But heading into the 2000-2001 season, Justin wasn't on my list of possible feature stories. He wasn't someone I circled as a possible starter or a key player. He was simply 'J Bird,' a cool guy I hoped would get some playing time down the line.

Then in early September 2000, I got a call from the sports editor at the State Press, ASU's campus newspaper. Justin would be out for the year and they wanted me write the story for the front page.

He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and would have to sit out the season to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

I didn't even know what Hodgkin's disease was. I found out it was a deadly, yet curable, form of cancer. I spoke with doctors and read online summaries of Hodgkin's, Non-Hodgkin's and other lymphomas as I waited to get a hold of Justin and his parents.

This was not a story I wanted to write. I became a sports writer to avoid doing stories like this.

I wanted to write about Justin getting a new tattoo with teammate Tommy Smith during the offseason or about Justin going out with one of the cute girls on the women's soccer team. I didn't want to write about my 20-year-old friend fighting cancer.

I had no idea that as I sat at my computer to write his story that a tumor was beginning to grow in my own body.

About eight months after I wrote about Justin's battle with cancer, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. As the doctor began to describe my illness, I couldn't help but think of Justin.

But the more that I thought about him, the more confident I became that I would overcome my fight with cancer.

While I sat in the hospital, waiting for my first chemotherapy treatment, Justin was in Australia with the team.

This time, however, he wasn't sitting at the end of the bench in street clothes - he was playing. Not only was he on the court again, but he shined.

He nailed three-pointers, played suffocating defense and yelled at his teammates to go at him harder.

When the team got back from Australia, I got phone calls from many of my friends at ASU. Coach Evans called to wish me well.

Many of the reporters and sports information people I knew also called to see how I was doing. The phone call that helped me the most was Justin's.

After weeks of going to a hospital filled with professionals, the elderly and others who had no idea what I was feeling, it helped to hear from Justin. He knew the pain I felt and the uncertainty going through my mind. He described everything he went through.

He described feelings he had during and after treatments that no one else I knew could relate to. He told me about eating lemons to get rid of the horrible metallic taste in my mouth during chemotherapy. When I got tired, he said, I should have my mom make homemade fruit juices.

Watching him excel on the court and listening to him talk about his road to recovery gave me so much confidence as I went through my own struggles.

Justin is back on the court now, bigger, stronger and wiser than before his diagnosis.

While he may not be the most well-known name on the court tonight at the Sports Arena when ASU plays USC, his mere presence will make him the most inspirational.

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