Pink Ribbon Diaries: Given six months, Elnora Cole still fighting
By Shavonne Potts
The doctors say I’m going to die. …
I’ll pray for a second opinion.
When Elnora Cole was diagnosed with breast cancer, doctors gave her six months to live.
That was three years ago.
Cole, 67, of Spencer, found a lump in her breast in 2002. But she did not go to the doctor.
“I worked until I couldn’t work anymore,” she said.
She felt she had to. Cole became the sole provider for her only son, Tyrone, after her husband, John, died in 2002.
Cole, who grew up in Cleveland where most people remember her as Elnora Ellis, worked as a caregiver and worked through her illness.
Meanwhile, the cancer spread, consuming her breast until it was gone.
Dr. Greg Mitro, a Salisbury oncologist who does not treat Cole, explained how that happens.
“It grows through the skin and opens like an ulcer,” he said of the tumor.
The breast tissue starts dying off and the breast almost disappears, Mitro said.
“It is called auto-amputation of the breast,” he said.
Cole’s family didn’t know how sick she was until her son made her go to the doctor.
He noticed his mother kept coughing a lot. She insisted it was allergies.
“I knew it was something worse,” Tyrone said.
When Cole finally went to the doctor, she was told what she already knew ó she had breast cancer and it had spread to her lungs.
The cancer was causing the coughing fits.
Cole’s doctors told her the cancer was so advanced they could not make any promises of survival.
She didn’t need their promises.
“I told them, ‘You don’t know the man I know,’ ” she said.
Cole relies heavily on her faith in God and attributes her survival to him.
“Her doctor said to me ‘It would be a miracle if she lived past six months,’ ” Tyrone said.
When Cole went back to the doctor after six months, the doctor was surprised to see her.
“She said, ‘I didn’t think you would be here,’ ” Cole said.
She’s not bothered by doctors who don’t give her much hope. She has enough of her own.
“I don’t think too much about that,” she said. “I’m just made of what the Lord made me.”
Tyrone, 29, takes his mother to her appointments and makes sure she takes all of her medicines.
“It helped me grow up fast and made me more responsible,” he said.
One day after coming home from treatment, Cole didn’t “look right,” her son said.
He asked Cole if she felt OK. He wasn’t convinced that she did and returned with her to the hospital.
Cole was having speech problems. She began slurring her words and forgetting things.
The cancer had spread to Cole’s brain. Her doctors believe the cancer caused her to have a mini stroke.
“Sometimes, my thoughts won’t come,” she said.
Cole is used to doing things for herself and still tries to do all of the housework. That doesn’t always go well. She gets confused sometimes.
Her doctor suggested she do word searches to keep her mind sharp. She completes those puzzles every day.
Sometimes she gets down and is sometimes physically tired.
“I remind myself I can’t give up,” Cole said. “God has brought me this far.”
Most of the time, she’s in no pain from the chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
She also takes a few medications each day. A nurse comes to her home a couple of times each week to re-dress her chest area and check her blood pressure and, sometimes, draws blood.
Cole said she doesn’t have much of an appetite. She feels as though it’s related to the chemotherapy.
She just doesn’t want to eat sometimes, she said.
She drinks meal replacement shakes, though she says none of them are particularly good.
“Sometimes she can’t taste it,” Tyrone said.
When Cole does eat a meal, she tries to make a good one.
Cole has a history of cancer in her family. Her mother also had breast cancer. Cole’s brother died of prostate cancer several years ago.
She said she could just give up and die, but she won’t.
“I don’t want to leave my son by himself,” she said.