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After all these years THS graduate is still a walking miracle

Allyn Jackson battled cancer during his senior year and now is looking forward to his 30th reunion
by: Jonathan House, BRIMMING WITH GOOD HEALTH — Allyn Jackson was a teenager when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and given only a 3 percent chance of living. Now cancer-free for 30 years, he tries to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

TIGARD - Probably no one in the Tigard High School Class of 1976 is more excited to be attending this weekend's 30th reunion than Allyn Jackson - there was a time when he didn't think he would live to attend his own graduation.

Jackson, 48, was diagnosed with inoperable bone cancer in his senior year and only later learned that he had a 3 percent chance of surviving. But he underwent a year-long regimen of experimental chemotherapy at Stanford University, and now, 30 years later, he's not only attending the reunion but will be a featured entertainer at the event.

'As a way to say thank you for all of the support given to me 30 years ago, I have assembled the following musicians for this very special performance - Louis (King Louie) Pain from the Mel Brown group on the B3 organ, John (Big John) Hannam on the guitar and Tommy Whiteford on the drums,' said Jackson, who will play the saxophone.

Music has permeated Jackson's life for as long as he can remember.

In his junior year of high school, he won the Oregon state solo championship playing the tenor sax and was preparing to defend his title during his senior year.

Looking back on it, Jackson realizes he first noticed something might be wrong with his leg that September. But it wasn't until he was injured during a skiing accident on New Year's Day in 1976 and it didn't heal that his family doctor started looking into the cause.

After being X-rayed in late February and undergoing a biopsy March 1, Jackson and his parents learned he had osteogenic sarcoma, or inoperable bone cancer.

'It's a rare cancer,' Jackson said. 'The treatment at that time was amputation of the long bone in the thigh.'

His parents took him to Stanford Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., 'which is an experimental hospital and has world-class doctors,' Jackson said.

He remembers that doctors considered taking out part of his leg, hip and internal organs but instead opted for radiation and an experimental chemotherapy drug called BUDR.

Jackson spent March, April and May in the hospital undergoing radiation and being infused with 'a miracle drug that was thick, yellow stuff and took eight hours to administer,' he explained.

'It made me deathly ill, and I was really sick for four to six days afterwards. I got down to 115 pounds. But I continued to play the sax. I took it down with me and played in the hospital.

'Two months after they started the chemo, they took an X-ray, and the doctors said it was remarkable - the chemo was working.'

One of several Tigard Times articles published about Jackson's battle with cancer explained that because Stanford is an experimental hospital, all the treatment was free. One bottle of BUDR cost $3,000, and Jackson was only the seventh person to receive the drug, 'although there is no guarantee of success,' the article noted.

Jackson said that he received a lot of support from his fellow students back in Tigard, and some even came to visit him during spring break that year.

'There was a lot of community support, and I got a lot of letters,' he said. 'I broke the record for the number of letters received.'

Jackson returned to Tigard in May and participated in his high school graduation ceremony, but he had to return once a month for nine more months to Stanford for more doses of chemotherapy.

After graduation, he took some classes at Clackamas Community College, 'but I was preoccupied with having a serious illness,' Jackson said. 'It took me until a year after the treatment before I wasn't afraid it might come back.'

Jackson then attended the University of Portland for two years on a music scholarship before transferring to Portland State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in business and economics.

'I used music to get through college,' he said. 'I played gigs, I booked concerts and bands.'

Out of college, Jackson got jobs selling advertising, including the Tigard Times for a while. He missed his 10th high school reunion because he was a flight attendant at the time and living in New York. 'But I went to my 20th,' Jackson said.

He ended up going into the hi-tech field and now works for CyberOptics Semiconductor in Beaverton as a service representative.

'I get to travel a lot,' Jackson said. 'I've been all over the world.'

But he stays close to his musical roots.

Jackson plays in a local band, Everyday People, which among its eight members includes a health club manager, a school teacher, a salesperson and students - in other words, 'everyday people.'

Upcoming performances include the Gemini Bar and Grill in Lake Oswego on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 9 p.m. and the Bethany Village Grill on Saturday, Aug. 19, at 8 p.m.

The group's Web site is www.edpsoul.com.

Ironically, while Jackson's odds of attending his 30th reunion didn't look good at one time, he will be there, but 12 of his classmates have died and won't be there.

Still, he is looking forward to seeing all those who show up.

'The four of us are going to put on a big show,' Jackson said. 'We're making it appropriate and special to thank everyone for their support during my illness. They sent so many cards and letters and collected money. I received unbelievable support from my family, friends, the school and the community.

'You hear about last-ditch efforts - this was.'

Debra Finegan, president of Classic Reunions Inc., is arranging the THS reunion this Saturday.