Ellen is lucky. Diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1996, she was treated at a teaching hospital and had a very good experience with her care team. In fact, in discussing her prognosis, her lead doctor expressed great confidence. “Ellen,” she proclaimed, “You’re not going to die from this.” And she was right. Ellen finished radiation in October 1996 and had officially beaten cancer.
But life as a cancer survivor has included its own set of challenges. “I’ve had ongoing souvenirs of this journey,” Ellen says. “I’ve managed, but the journey continues.” The radiation that saved her life also “did a number” on her intestines, resulting in a ruptured colon, three resectioning surgeries, a colostomy and ongoing GI issues. The radiation affected her bladder, too, and over the years decreased its function. She’s faced a bilateral nephrostomy (drains inserted in her kidneys, out through the back and down her legs) and anticipates more surgery to make the drainage permanent.
That urostomy will remove her neurogenic bladder (In Ellen’s words – “It just went kaput. The nerves are dead.”). That surgery will create a new conduit from her intestine and replace the tubes down the back of her legs with a single ostomy bag that will get her back to the tennis and golf that are a beloved part of her active lifestyle.
“When deciding on treatment options, they take you through the percentages. There’s a one percent chance of this side effect. A three percent chance of that. Unfortunately, they’ve all happened to me.”
Through her many setbacks, Ellen has kept her sense of humor. “My character was fine before cancer. I didn’t need this to be a life-transforming experience.”
“I found out who my friends are. And who they weren’t,” she recalls. “Some people shut down and turned away. I know cancer scares a lot of people. You don’t know what to say. I don’t myself. But people who were just there made a huge difference. The smallest kindnesses mean something.”
Her first round of complications meant a nine-week stay in the hospital – and created a moment she’ll never forget. “One of the nurses who had been caring for me told me she was putting me at the end of her rounds so she could wash my hair. You’d have thought it was Christmas morning.”
As she’s faced these challenges, she’s shared her victories – and struggles – with Cancer Hope Network patients facing similar diagnoses or considering similar treatments. She’s also connected with CHN Support Volunteers of her own, finding comfort and solidarity.
“You feel like you’re the only person going through what you’re going through. You feel like your family is done hearing about it. Your doctors are an appointment away. Knowing someone is going through, in pretty close detail, what you’re going through is very helpful.”
“When I call a match, I’m hoping that I’m helping them. Often, when I get off the phone, I feel like they’ve lifted my spirits.”
Hope has many faces. Want to be matched with Ellen – or another Support Volunteer who has been where you are? Click HERE or call 877-HOPENET (877-467-3638) today.