As a retired teacher with over forty years in the education system and a lifetime of farm-to-table eating, Allean Neal, 69, has something to teach us all about health and mindset.

Her value for homegrown food was instilled at an early age, having grown up on Memphis family farmland where they harvested all sorts of produce, including peas, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and sweet potatoes — preparing food for the winter months through freezing, canning, and fruit preserving.

“I don’t think of it as a diet but as a way of life.”

Having taught kindergarten through 12th, with experience in special education and literacy coaching, Allean was ready to retire in 2017. Yet, her routine August mammogram led to an unexpected HR2+ breast cancer diagnosis.

“You just got to deal with it,” Allean told me, her voice light and hopeful.

Upon returning to work that fall, Allean underwent a lumpectomy in addition to chemotherapy from October to February, receiving treatments on Fridays so she had the weekend to recover before the next school week began.

While the final round of treatment, five days a week for over six weeks, was most grueling, the mom of three and grandmother of three still gushes with gratitude about the support she received from her family, including her husband Clarence and daughter-in-law, a physician, who flew in from Tallahassee, Florida, to accompany her to most treatments.

“Baptist has been wonderful,” she says of her experiences with the staff, oncologists, surgeons, and THRIVE. 

THRIVE is the hospital’s cancer support group offering nutrition, fitness, mindfulness, spirituality, and group wellness classes, seminars, and Zoom sessions to help patients better understand and navigate their diagnoses. The program also informs participants of new and ongoing clinical trials, provides financial support and genetic testing, and provides guidance in sharing the news with family. It is designed for all ages and stages of cancer, from diagnosis to life post-treatment. 

To stay active and cheerful, Allean attends the Women Run Walk Memphis Program & 5K, a group of 100 inspiring ladies who meet every Monday from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Hope Presbyterian Church and train for eight weeks. Upon graduating, the women qualify to join countless 5Ks around town.

“I don’t think of it as a diet but as a way of life.”

The ladies are fitted with discounted gear and given coaching tips by a rotation of local establishments, and this year’s is Grivet Outdoors.

“What I like about the group is that they motivate you. Everyone is so positive and upbeat. They’re nice people who are willing to do anything to help others.”

After recently losing 17 pounds following a plant-based diet, Allean refers to the Intermittent Dieting book, using their recipes as inspiration while remaining more relaxed about the timing of meals.

“I like the fact that it has variety,” she shares about her emphasis on consuming a balanced diet that incorporates different vegetables, herbs, and spices, much of which are homegrown.

“I feel great. Eating healthy changes your life because you feel better, look better, and your mental capacity is better.”

“It’s hard, but it’s doable. Some people are determined to get through it; that’s me. I’m determined to get through it.”