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Darren Doyle, story and photos
If you've stopped by the Main Street Barber Shop in Brownsville within the last seven months, you've found the door locked, the lights off, and no indication of when the shop will be reopened. Owner Odis Allen of Brownsville closed the shop on March 1, 2016 after finding out he had been diagnosed with cancer, more specifically, Large B-Cell Non-Hodgekins Lymphoma.
"I'd had an ongoing back problem for years," said Allen, from his chair in the barber shop. "I got up off the couch on New Year's Day of 2016 and had a terrible pain in my left-lower back that radiated down into my hip. It wouldn't go away so I went to my neurosurgeon, got it checked out and through an MRI, found out it was cancer."
Allen said he got the call while in-between customers at his shop in late February.
"It crushed me. That was a horrible weekend," Allen said. "I met with my children, my wife. My options were to go through a four-treatment chemotherapy program or I would have 6 to 12 months to live."
Allen's cancer was not in tissue, but in his bones, including his spine, clavicles, pelvis, and skull. The medical process originally began in Bowling Green but he said he and his family were not happy with where that seemed to be headed so they turned to Dr. Don Stevens at Norton's Hospital in Louisville.
Allen's treatment plan became finalized with the decision to undergo six of the aggressive treatments. Each one would require a minimum of one week in the hospital. It only took four of the six scheduled treatments to rid Allen's body of the cancer but his medical team advised him to proceed with the last two.
The fifth one almost killed him. Allen said he got an infection after the fifth treatment which sent his body into septic shock on the July 4th weekend. His organs began shutting down and his time quickly began to run out.
"It was almost the beginning of the end for me," he said. "They sent me to Norton's Women and Children Center, and I'm telling you what, I've never seen such care in a hospital in all of my life. I had an entire team of five people in my room every morning, telling me this and that."
Odis said he stared death in the eye, and while he said he hated the thought of leaving his family behind, he was not afraid.
"I have no doubt in my mind that the Lord answered the prayers of my brethren in this county. Other places, too. I was at that point."
Allen became emotional as he wiped his eye. "I was at the Jordan River, and it was calm and peaceful. I could've just crossed over, but I didn't."
Allen said throughout the process he tried to keep a positive outlook on things and his family and friends never failed to give him the support he needed. However, he said he looked at things realistically and tried to prepare for the worst in case this was his time.
"My greatest fear in all of this was for my family because they are my rock, but I had faith to know that I'd be a winner either way."
He said there were times where he was too weak to do anything. He couldn't move, couldn't eat, and said at times, couldn't even function as a human.
"I just trusted in the Lord," he said. "I'd see people out from time to time when I was able to get out and they'd say things like, 'I've been praying for you' or 'our church is praying for you.' I didn't know these people."
He said those are the main reasons he moved his family from Fort Lauderdale, FL to Edmonson County 24 years ago, a decision that he says was the best one he ever made.
"I lived in Broward County, Florida, where there were 3 million people. All those people and I didn't know anyone. All the houses were on quarter-acre lots. You didn't know your neighbor and didn't want to. Three million people and you're all alone. I move to Edmonson County where there's 12,000 or so people and I've got people praying for me, entire churches praying for me that I don't even know. It's absolutely amazing."
He was released from the hospital in late July and was cancer-free, however; his troubles weren't over. He said he then suffered from PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I just couldn't do anything. I was so weak. I went through a series of depression and boredom. The worst times were at night when I'd think of the whole process. My mind would race and there would be all this anxiety."
He said his wife had arranged for him to see a therapist but instead, he received a different type of therapy.
"After a few weeks, I went to church at Cedar Springs (United Baptist) and the Lord blessed me. I went to church at Pleasant Union and the Lord blessed me there. He just kept blessing me, over and over, and all that anxiety and trouble left. Debbie (his wife) asked me if I was going to see the therapist and I told her I didn't need to see one anymore."
He also drives a school bus for the Edmonson County school system, a position to which he's already returned.
"I was in danger on losing my insurance if I didn't go back to driving the bus. Lannie, (Deweese, Director of Transportation) my fellow bus drivers, and other school board employees treated me so well," he said.
Allen had used up all his sick and personal time as a bus driver but he said his school board friends began to transfer their own time to him in order for Allen to have the proper amount of time off work without losing his benefits.
"A mechanic gave me an entire week of his, which translated into two weeks for me." (bus drivers days are 4hrs) "And I just recently received a very generous gift from a teacher's aid at Kyrock. She gave me 53 days."
After the ups and downs of the entire process, Allen said he's learned many things, but one very valuable lesson.
"I've come to learn what true charity is and how precious the prayers of my brethren are."
Need a haircut? Here's more good news: Allen will be reopening the Main Street Barber Shop on Monday, October 10, 2016 at 8AM. When asked if the Main Street Center would be able to handle all the parking and the long line to get in, he laughed as he jokingly replied, "I don't know about that, but that would be nice."
It's easy to say very few people here or anywhere haven't been affected by cancer in some form or fashion. Allen said he never thought it would be him, but it was, for whatever reason.
In the hour it took to have this interview, three different people saw the lights on and came inside. All asking, "Are you back to work?" He turned them down but assured them he'd be back for good shortly.
"I certainly don't wish that on anyone. Boy, it's been something. But you know, the Lord took care of me. It'll be good to be back. I know I keep saying the word 'amazing,' but that's what this is. It's all amazing."