TUPELO – When Patricia Ellis was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in 1988, she didn’t know anyone who’d survived cancer.
“It’s like the whole world came to a stand still. There’s a little roaring in your ears,” she said. “You’re trying to grasp what’s being said to you.”
Twenty-five years after her diagnosis, she knows plenty of survivors, and she celebrates the life she has.
“I tell everybody I’m a survivor. I tell everybody in the grocery store, at church,” she said. “God wasn’t through with me. He wants me to tell people that there’s life after breast cancer.”
Ellis, a Tupelo native, was an elementary school teacher in Milwaukee when she was diagnosed, and she was not afraid to go looking for her own answers.
She called the American Cancer Society and educated herself on her options.
“I had surgery, six months of chemo and six weeks of radiation,” she said. “Sometimes I had two treatments in a day.”
Ellis, now 64, was 39 at the time of her diagnosis.
Her mother came to visit her while she underwent treatments – “She said, ‘You probably wouldn’t tell me if you had a hard time,’’” Ellis said – and she had the support of her church and friends.
“My priest came and checked on me. His mom had it, so so he was very attentive to me. I had a friend who knew people got sick smelling food cooking, so she made food she knew I liked and froze them, so all I had to do was pop them in the microwave,” she said. “All of the doctors’ reports on me said I was very optimistic and I had a strong support system.”
Ellis continued teaching during treatment.
“They tried to talk me out of it. They said it was very debilitating treatment,” she said. But if she had free time, she knew she’d worry herself sick.
“The moment I stepped into my classroom, my children and my lessons were my focus. I think I missed six days of work,” she said.
“It was very debilitating. But I was determined.”
Ellis was diagnosed April 12, 1988, so every year she celebrates in April.
“I celebrate my cancer diagnosis, just like I do my natural birthday. I went past that 25 times, because I conquered it. I overcame the enemy,” Ellis said.
Each April, she buys herself a gift, goes out for a good meal or takes a special trip.
Surviving breast cancer has made her a stronger person.
“I always say that after that battle, the rest of this is little stuff,” Ellis said. “There’s nothing now I can’t do. It doesn’t stop me from living, going places or participating in anything.”
She has advice for women who are battling breast cancer.
“Keep a positive outlook. Follow your doctor’s instructions, and give it to God. It gave me peace. Most are looking for a sense of peace, because it’s so frightening,” she said. “I do believe in early detection and treatment. You have to go through it, but you don’t have to be put down by it.”