By ZIAD BUCHH, Opinions Editor
Angela Jeanette Allen, a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, died Sept. 8 after a six-year battle with cancer. She was 54 years old.
Allen had many offices in her lifetime. Across her 22 years of teaching chemistry at the university, she’s held offices on a variety of campuses and buildings. And in every one of those offices, hung an ever-growing wall of thank you letters from her students.
“I am blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from and know a part of you,” wrote Jason Tominna. “Because of you, I will always keep pushin [sic].”
Students taking a class with Allen found more than just a professor with a deep understanding of the subject material and a witty and engaging teaching style. She invested herself personally in the success of her students and didn’t shy away from offering sincere advice.
“Professor Allen changed my entire life. She did things for me and said things to me that I needed and that no one else was willing to do or say for me” recalled her former student John Bonello.
Allen asked Bonello to be her teacher’s assistant despite negative input from her colleagues. She let Bonello know that his work ethic needed to improve if he were to be successful.
“She told me that she didn’t care and that she was going to push me hard and hold me accountable so that I could become the person I was supposed to be,” Bonello said. “She did just that.”
Allen’s story is full of overcoming adversity. In 1993, she graduated with a master’s degree in organic chemistry from Wayne State University. Allen graduated at the top of her class.
When her sister passed away, Allen adopted her nieces, Bridget and Brittney Allen, and raised them as her own, becoming their “Auntie-Mom.” But the biggest hardship of all came in 2011, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Allen, ever the fighter, continued to teach throughout all the doctor’s visits, medication, and chemotherapy. She beat cancer into remission twice. But in her third bout, the cancer cells metastasized, and, in 2015, she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer: a diagnosis that, according to the American Cancer Society, gave her a 22 percent chance of surviving.
“Recently diagnosed with Stage IV cancer,” Allen shared in a post on Facebook, “which has forced me to LIVE RIGHT NOW.”
Allen continued to teach despite her diagnosis, and got involved in many causes, such as The Vagina Monologues, which raises funds to stop violence against women.
Even as she battled her own issues, Allen was constantly there for students to help in any way possible.
Yunus Al-Garadi, a former student, recalled a time he confided his struggles with Allen.
“The road of life is not easy, but you have to remember that whenever you stumble on this road, you have got to get up and continue your journey,” Allen told Al-Garadi.
On some days, Allen looked as energetic as ever, bouncing around the classroom, engaging students and writing furiously on the classroom blackboard. On other days, standing was a challenge and classes had to be paused while Allen had five minute-long coughing fits.
Friends and colleagues implored Allen to take it easy, but she shrugged them off, offering them all the same retort: “As long as I have the energy to stand in front of the classroom and teach, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Eventually, Allen grew too weak to move around the classroom at her usual pace and traded in her writing chalk for PowerPoint slides. When her ankles and feet became too swollen to drive, she arranged to be driven to class. She then began to carry an oxygen tank with her everywhere she went. Her condition was so fragile that one day, when she didn’t show up for class, her colleague Sheila Smith drove from hospital to hospital trying to find her, only to find that there had been a miscommunication and she didn’t know classes had started.
In July of 2017, Allen was turned down for an experimental treatment, citing she was “too far gone.”
Allen, who had started the summer semester that month, taught for all of July and August. It was after turning in her final grades, her colleague Sheila Smith noted, that her health began to decline rapidly.
Knowing that her time was coming, Allen began making her own funeral arrangements.
“My journey is over! My battle has been won! Jesus said it is time to be out of my pain and I said okay!” Allen announced in a letter to her students and colleagues. “Thank you for your LOVE….And I love you more.”
Her funeral was held at Immanuel Lutheran Church on Saturday, just as she specified in her letter. Even on death’s doorstep, Allen was still in control of her life.
“There is no doubt that Angela had cancer,” remarked her friend Rev. Diana Swoope. “But cancer never had Angela.”