March 8, 2019

Cancer Forces Runner to Make Tough Decision

Last spring the school teacher and mother of two boys celebrated her five-year anniversary of being cancer free.

Last spring the school teacher and mother of two boys celebrated her five-year anniversary of being cancer free.

Last spring the school teacher and mother of two boys celebrated five years of being cancer free.

For a year, Rhonda Ellis’ left hip popped and ached when she ran.

The elementary school teacher and mother of two boys was too busy to have it looked at. Still, it nagged at her on her daily run as she logged up to 35 miles a week. The running was almost an addiction. She had started running to get healthy after years of struggling with post-baby weight, and now she was hooked.

Her running buddy finally told her, “Something’s not right.” Ellis, who at that time lived in Searcy, went to her family doctor, but X-rays showed nothing. The doctor sent her to an orthopaedic specialist for further testing, and there it was — a marble-sized cyst, possibly a tumor.

“The specialist said ‘I’m sending you to the only orthopedic oncologist in Arkansas,’” Ellis said.

By the time Ellis arrived at UAMS to see Richard Nicholas, M.D., she was worried. After more tests, Nicholas told her and her husband, John, it could be a low-grade cancer — possibly a clear-cell chondrosarcoma growing inside the femur, or hip bone.

“We are going to do a total hip replacement,” she recalled Nicholas saying. “You won’t be able to run any more, but we’re going to get it out of there.”

“We were very much in shock,” Ellis said, “but we are people of faith and we very much believe in God’s providence.” They were on their way to a weekend getaway to celebrate the anniversary of their engagement. They continued with the trip, but all they talked about was what to do.

“At first I said, ‘I’m not doing it, I’m not giving up what I worked so hard to accomplish,’” Ellis said of her passion for running. But when her husband looked at her and said, “The boys and I need you,” she determined to do whatever it took to get rid of the cancer.

“God kind of broke my stubborn spirit and said ‘I’m going to take care of you — you need to trust Me.’”

The next day they went to see their pastor. Her church family rallied around her, as did her fellow teachers. Along with family, they pitched in to help after surgery, bringing food and ferrying the kids to their activities.

“We were blessed throughout the entire process,” Ellis said. “I learned a lot about myself. I will be the very first one in line to help someone out, but I will tell others, ‘I don’t need your help.’ Friends said do not rob someone else of the blessing to help you.”

Her hip replacement took place in April 2006. “I totally trusted Dr. Nicholas and knew he was the best in the business.”

She required three weeks of physical therapy, but no further treatment. She thanks her husband, whom she called “my very best friend. He was the biggest factor in my recovery because he is so supportive.”

She and John moved to Conway three years ago and she is now a stay-at-home mom to Ethan, 17, and Austin, 15, attending their activities and volunteering at church. She has found other types of exercise to replace her daily runs.

Last spring she celebrated her five-year anniversary of being cancer free by tossing a token into the Seed of Hope sculpture on the first floor of the Cancer Institute.

“My initial reaction was what an amazing program for those who have beat it,” Ellis said. “I thought of a friend battling cancer, and as I threw my seed in I sure was praying that he would have the same experience of the hope and joy of being healed.”