Three years since being diagnosed with stage III colon cancer, Dr. Deborah Ellis, system director of Infection Prevention and Control is cancer free and living each day in grace and gratitude.
Throughout her journey from diagnosis to treatment to recovery Dr. Ellis shared, “I never asked ‘why’ me.” She knew why.
“I was like many busy and overscheduled people who never seemed to find time for regular recommended health screenings,” she said. “I always had something I thought was more important or pressing to get done.”
As a result, Dr. Ellis kept putting off her colon screening and in 2019 her world changed forever. With a rough and scary road ahead including surgery and chemotherapy, Dr. Ellis approached her colon cancer journey like a warrior with determination and purpose.
“My immediate thought was that I did this to myself by not being proactive with my health,” she said. “Now it was up to me to get busy getting better with the tremendous support and exceptional care from my medical care team.”
In addition, Dr. Ellis relied on faith and the inspiration she found in gospel music. Two songs, “Victory” and “I Won’t Complain” were consistently at the top of her playlist during her many lengthy chemotherapy treatments. “The music helped to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety but most importantly the songs gave me the extra hope and strength I needed to help battle this disease.”
Dr. Ellis was aware of the fight that lay ahead. Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States for men and women combined, with African Americans having the highest rates of colon cancer occurrence and deaths in the United States according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Today, the ACS recommends that everyone begin getting screenings at age 45.
In 2022, an estimated 151,030 people will be diagnosed with this highly preventable disease which is what drives Dr. Ellis to share her story and the importance of colon cancer screening. “If people take anything away from my journey, it’s that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” she said.
She also shared that one of the common myths to be dispelled about colon cancer is that you won’t get it if you don’t have a family history. For Dr. Ellis the disease was not hereditary and what may have contributed to her putting off getting screened. “What I realized is that my family history for colorectal cancer now starts with me,” she said.
Three years cancer free, Dr. Ellis continues her path to reach full remission at the five-year mark. Along the way, she continues to reflect on how this disease has changed her not just physically but mentally and emotionally. “I now approach life with much more dedication to mindfulness,” she said. “Every evening I take some quiet time to reflect on the day and to capture five things for which I am grateful.”
As we recognize National Colorectal Awareness Month, Dr. Ellis encourages everyone not to take their health for granted and to stop procrastinating. She shared, “Be your own health advocate and make time for your colorectal screening; just do it!” They are safe, and they save lives.
For more information on colorectal cancer causes, risk factors and prevention visit the American Cancer Society.