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When she went to Fayette County Hospital for a mammogram on the last day of 2012, Elloise Black had no reason to suspect that anything was awry. She was simply trying to get the procedure done before the new insurance deductible kicked in.
That decision to push up her usual mammogram schedule may have a huge payoff in another way. It gave her an early start in fighting the breast cancer that the mammogram exposed.
Though that original scan showed only a “suspicious spot,” it set off a whirlwind of medical procedures for Elloise, a 70-year-old Vandalia native. And it launched her and her husband, Dean, on an emotional roller-coaster ride that has continued for the past 10 months.
During the next three weeks, she had another mammogram, a sonogram, a needle biopsy and, on Jan. 22, a lumpectomy. Results of the early tests were inconclusive, but when the lumpectomy lab work came back, the news wasn’t good.
“On Jan. 28, Dr. (Rubin) Boyajian called me back and said that the lump was cancerous,” Elloise said. “We had planned a trip to the Gulf Shores, Ala., in February, but we cancelled it.”
What followed was a series of tests – a CAT scan, a bone scan and a PET scan – to see if the cancer had spread. Additional surgery was done on Feb. 19, during which 19 lymph nodes were removed.
After that, Elloise saw Dr. Philip Dy, an Effingham oncologist, who recommended further treatment – chemotherapy and radiation – because the cancer they’d found was very aggressive. The diagnosis: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.
“I started chemotherapy at Fayette County Hospital in late June and continued it every week until mid September,” Elloise said. “The nurses there are so wonderful – Peggy Williams, Marla Ainscough and Jackie Clay. They are all so positive.”
Just last week, Elloise had the first of 33 radiation treatments at the Crossroads Cancer Center in Effingham. She’ll wrap those up in November.
“Who would’ve thought a year ago that we’d be in this position,” Elloise said. “But I don’t have anything to complain about. I’m blessed. I’ve gotten so much support from family and friends and our church (First United Methodist Church in Vandalia).
“The experience has made my faith stronger, and I appreciate every day more.”
It’s also done good things for their marriage of 51 years.
“Our marriage was strong to start with,” said Elloise. “But going through this together has made our marriage even stronger. Dean has been there to support me.”
As has the rest of their family – sons Mike (and wife Karel) and Brad, as well as grandchildren Clayton and Kayla.
“Through all of this, she’s looked at the bright side of things,” said Dean, a retired Exxon employee, who grew up in Patoka. “But then, she always has. Our Christian faith has helped us get through the hard times.”
One aggravating condition that has made some daily tasks difficult for Elloise is neuropathy – which makes her fingers and toes numb.
“Every day, we just have to trust that God will take care of us,” Elloise said. “I’m going to get through this.”
And when she does, there’s an unused vacation package in Gulf Shores, Ala., waiting for her.