Cancer survivors celebrate living

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Ten years ago, a doctor walked into an exam room and told Ella Belle she had cancer.

He told her it was the most aggressive form of cancer known.

He told her it would require the complete removal of her left breast.

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Ella Belle said she didn’t shed a tear, but last night, while telling the story of her diagnosis, her eyes glistened.

“I’m trying to sit there and act like a big girl,” she said, as her voice broke.

Ella Belle, State Board of Education member, was among the dozens of cancer survivors gathered to celebrate their lives at the Carl C. Morgan convention center.

Bell, one of the featured guests at the Survivor’s Banquet organized by the Dallas County chapter of the American Cancer Society, told her story and the story of her mother’s death.

“Sometimes you need paper and notes,” she said. “Sometimes stories are so vivid you don’t need paper.”

Before Bell’s mother died, she took care of her, trying to keep her health up through chemotherapy treatments.

“Every day I would make her food,”

Bell said. “She (had to have) a real serious milkshake.”

Bell said with every meal her mother could eat, she’d have a 2,600 calorie milkshake, to fight the weight loss caused by chemo.

“My momma was just not going to do that (on her own),” Bell said.

The shakes helped her mom gain weight at least. Bell said her mom gained five pounds.

But it wasn’t enough to save her life.

“Despite all my efforts, I lost my mother,” Bell said. “I buried my mother. I put the Easter lilies on her grave.”

Bell said, that as she drove away from her mother’s funeral, she prayed she’d never see cancer or its effects again.

Ten years ago, Bell said cancer was back in her life.

She said she felt a lump, about the size of a pea, in her left breast, as she got out of the shower and put on a new type of lotion.

She immediately called her doctor.

“I said, ‘I have an uneasiness about this,'” she said. “I have an uneasiness in my spirit.”

She demanded a mammogram for the very next day.

The mammogram showed no growth.

She demanded an ultrasound.

“Uneasiness in your spirit causes you to make moves you would not normally make,” Bell said.

After the ultrasound, her doctor met with her in an exam room. As he fought with the door, trying to close it, she said she knew.

Before he turned around, Bell asked him.

“He said, ‘Oh, baby, it was,'” Bell said.

The doctor was scared. He said the situation demanded a massive mastectomy. She didn’t want saline implants. He assured her it wouldn’t be necessary and found her the best plastic surgeon he knew.

She demanded an immediate appointment.

“I’ve got two Blue Cross cards,” she said. “So I’m live. I’m ready.”

She was given an almost immediate appointment.

She went into surgery less than a month later.

Her doctor pleaded with Bell to get a round of preventive chemotherapy.

She refused.

“I just can’t take that cancer center,” she said. “I’ll die from cancer but I won’t die from chemo.”

Eventually, after begging and pleading, Bell consented.

By her sixth treatment, she’d decided it was enough.

“I was so sick, I was afraid to go to sleep,” she said.

That’s when she made the decision to quit chemo.

Since then, Bell’s been diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes, hormonal imbalances and a dozen other maladies.

But none of it matter’s Bell said.

As far as she’s concerned, it’s all part of being alive.

Her favorite illness was caused by the mastectomy.

Fluid settles in her left arm because her lymph nodes were removed.

“God put it here for me to be reminded on a daily basis,” she said, “I am indeed, a blessed child of almighty God. I am also reminded daily I must share the blessing.”

Bell said that’s what the night was about, honoring those lost to cancer and being thankful for living through it.

“I know what time of day it is,” she said.