On February 4, 2013, elite competitive skater Carley Elle Allison was admitted to a Toronto hospital when she began having trouble breathing. Just 17, she’d often seemed short of breath in recent months, so she and her family thought she might have asthma.
A CT scan showed something was blocking her throat, leaving her less than 1/8th of an inch of breathing space. She went into surgery to have an emergency tracheotomy. During the procedure, doctors found a tumor the size of a golf ball. After subsequent testing, pathology reported a Malignant Melanoma. Carley’s diagnosis was extremely rare — she was only the seventh ever patient in the world to have this kind of cancer.
After 11 days in the hospital, Carley was allowed to go home with her tracheotomy tube still in place. One of the first things Carley did when getting home was to plug up the trach tube so she could make a video of herself playing piano, singing a cover of “More Than This.”
Carley would never have expected that one of her videos, a cover of a One Direction song, would catch the attention of singer/actress Selena Gomez. Selena tweeted words of encouragement to Carley, urging her to keep singing. And Carley did just that.
A competitive skater since the age of six, Carley was also a talented singer and performer. In addition to training on the ice six days a week, she started taking guitar lessons at age 11, and at 15 began teaching herself to play piano. Carley recorded and uploaded videos of her original songs, and covers of other artists to YouTube.
She also went on to sing the national anthem at several NHL games. An avid hockey fan, Carley described the experience as “incredible.”
On February 27, Carley went to Princess Margaret Hospital to develop a plan of action. She had another CT scan and the diagnosis was good: the doctors felt they could remove the tumor by June or possibly July.
In March, Carley underwent craniosacral therapy after an interview with City TV. Many other media outlets also learned about her story, which allowed Carley to share her journey to many other kids going through the same situation. Carley also began a blog, Always Smile, where she would post updates and milestones on her progress. Her newfound fame also brought awareness to sarcomas. Through different fundraisers and events, thousands of dollars were donated from across the world, towards further cancer research and treatments.
Carley was told she would have to begin chemotherapy, so on March 6, she cut off her long blonde hair to donate to “Locks for Love.” After two months of no skating, Carley returned to the ice on March 20 for a short, but successful skate. When her hair began to fall out on March 25, her father shaved his hair off too. In April, 10 of Carley’s friends shaved their heads as well.
Over the next month, Carley had to make several emergency trips to Sick Kids Hospital for various problems, but by the long weekend in May, she was allowed to go with her family to their cottage in Minden.
Finally, on July 2, Carley underwent a four hour surgery to remove the cancerous tumor in her neck. The surgery was successful, and on July 26, after months of having a tube in her neck, it was finally removed. Following surgery, Carley had to undergo radiation treatments, but by September 18, she was happy to finally able to ride her horse for the first time again. She had also been back to skating for several weeks and her hair was growing in.
Ten months after her diagnosis, on October 23, 2013, Carley wrote in her blog that she was cancer free. Her radiation treatments were complete and she was looking forward to getting back into her regular skating routine at the Granite Club and participating in competitions.
However, by August 27, 2014, a routine CT scan showed that Carley had clear cell sarcoma in her lungs — the cancer had spread from her neck. Although she’d been accepted into Queen’s University and had even begun moving her things into her room there, she began feeling extremely unwell. She was brought back to see doctors in Toronto, where it was determined she would have to take her university courses online.
In November she and her mother traveled to Florida to participate in a three week program at the Hippocrates institution, where people go to improve their health with a raw vegan diet. On November 16, Carley mentioned in her blog that her family and boyfriend came to visit. This was the first mention of her boyfriend, who plays a big role in a movie made about Carley’s life, titled Kiss and Cry.
After the first week, Carley felt better and could get out of bed and walk around. Many of the other participants who also had cancer said that their pain was gone and in some cases, that their tumor had shrunk. By the time the three week program was done, she was hopeful that her next scan results would show positive changes.
In January, Carley’s doctor told her that the CT scan showed regression in the large tumor, which was good news, but that the cancer had spread to her left arm. In February, she was in so much pain that she was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, and surgery was scheduled for the next day.
Following the surgery she noted that being in an adult hospital was very different from being in Sick Kids Hospital. She wrote on her blog, “In sick kids you are treated as a person but in the adult hospitals you feel like your (sic) just a number on a chart.”
She also noted that she had been a patient at every hospital on University avenue in Toronto. Her arm began to recover after surgery, but the cancer in her lungs was still progressing. In March, Carley underwent two weeks of chemotherapy and hyperthermia treatments. Her hemoglobin dropped almost below 70, so she was given a blood transfusion at North York General. Carley’s last blog post was on March 9, 2015.
On March 31, 2015, her sister Riley and John (Carley’s boyfriend) posted on Carley’s blog to let everyone know that Carley passed away in hospital that morning.
Although Carley's life was short, she left behind her legacy in Carley’s Angels – a charity in her honor that is dedicated to helping sick children and their families. Carley’s message of determination, perseverance and positivity even during the toughest of times, continues to be an inspiration for many.