Award-winning Bay area journalist in the fight for his life

February 27th, 2015 by Staff

Warren and his wife Lona in their Tampa home.


(Tampa Bay Times) TAMPA, Fla. – I’ll never forget hearing my doctor’s tears.

A friend for 20 years, he’d done all he could to keep my heart healthy, so I wouldn’t die of my father’s disease. The CT scan was back.

“It’s bad,” he said.

I couldn’t really make out the rest. My mind was too busy racing to that damn pain in my lower left back, how I’d ignored it, cajoled it, fed it Advil and whatever else was left over from the dentist.

I spent months and months convincing myself it was just a muscle. Why else would the pain go away after a dose of the heating pad? Why would over-the-counter painkillers work if this was, indeed, something serious?

I started writing about it because I didn’t know what else to do. My central idea was to give people a reason to listen to their own bodies, to get to the doc if the pain doesn’t go away after a month or more. Scans are incredibly cheap, and why they aren’t a routine part of an annual physical exam, I have no idea.

Dec. 3, 2014 | So it begins …

CT scan reveals at least two tumors, either in the pancreas or the left kidney or both. They are presumed cancerous and spreading … The question now is whether this cancer is treatable. Is it curable? How much time do I have? … I’m not afraid of dying. I’m filled with regret at the very real prospect of leaving my life when I thought I had so much more time to be a better person to my wife, my family, my grandkids …

Just give me the fighting chance Lord, that’s all I ask.

Dec. 4, 2014 | Was it my years of smoking cigarettes? Was it the stress of forty years of deadlines? It doesn’t matter …

Dec. 7, 2014 | Your mind plays strange tricks, making you think things are growing, moving, doing things in there when the docs say it’s a much longer time frame …

Dec. 12, 2014 | I don’t know how many of you have had the surreal experience of being told you can be treated but not cured. … I was amazed at how I took the news. We just sat there and asked questions like, how long? They bury you in statistics that range from six months to a year, two years. Patients of theirs who have lived three years. Eight years …

Next comes designing the chemo. … How do you balance the fact you only have an undetermined yet relatively short time to live against the strong desire for treatment, versus the hope for as “normal” a life as possible while it lasts?

DEC. 13, 2014 | I saw new life yesterday. … My daughter-in-law Jen is due in the spring, and Lorelei was so beautiful, even in blurry 3-D, or was it 4-D. … I cannot wait to hold her in my arms.

Dec. 19, 2014 | Moffitt confirms the original diagnosis, Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma (ACC). Extremely rare, two people in a million get it. Mine is advanced to the point that very aggressive chemotherapy is the best shot at extending life …
Dr. Jeffery Russell is younger than I thought he’d be. He greets you with a quick smile from behind a bright red beard. … He has a presence, a chemistry about him that gives someone in my shoes courage …

Dec. 29, 2014 | What cancer does to your loved ones, how their lives are changed in ways unimaginable … My wife has become my nurse, and I worry about her … Lona, I don’t know what I’d do without you, my love.

Jan. 8, 2015 | And Liftoff! That’s all I could think as the nurse opened the line and I watched the first clear liquid flowing through that plastic tube. I wanted to shout out YES YES YES and high five everybody, but instead, I just cried …

Jan. 11, 2015 | … Just as predicted, here come the side effects. There’s a near constant after-taste, like a chemical heavy metal. … We are on 14 different kinds of pills, and they have to be coordinated by the hour. Lona’s white board is the nerve center of the War Room.

Jan. 13, 2015 | I look around and think how lucky I am. Many here have lost their hair. Others have deformities, I guess, from the radiation. These are brave people, commanding their walkers and wheelchairs and wearing big smiles. Everyone seems to know each other, and even if they don’t know you, there are knowing nods of acknowledgment …

Jan. 15, 2015 | I didn’t want to go yesterday … “But it’s not about the beach,” says Lona, “it’s about your newborn granddaughter and her big brother and sister.” She was right … Marien looks much older than her 8 weeks. With a full head of hair and the brightest beautiful eyes, you very quickly forget whatever it was you were thinking or feeling … She’s mesmerizing, those big eyes taking everything in and capturing snapshots of her new world. Oh, to be brand new …

Jan. 17, 2015 | It isn’t every day you get to watch your immortality. Three little boys and the older sister, cementing lifelong relationships forged in dirt piles … and games of hide and go seek. As an only child, I will always remember how lonely it was not to have a brother or sister, how envious I was of my friends who did, and how many times I promised myself my kids wouldn’t be alone. The Lord gave us three boys and they have adapted the same philosophy; there are five grandchildren now with a sixth on the way … Immortality flying by now as they chase each other around the house.

Jan. 22, 2015 | The beach pictures … of my beaming 8-year-old granddaughter and 6-year-old grandson, will someday be in the hands of their kids … Memories of their parents’ childhood and a great-grandfather who’d taken sick with a disease that once killed thousands, before a cure was found. I wonder what they’ll say about the unexpected adventure … Will they remember the wide vistas, the sunsets, the sunrises, the sheer and breathtaking beauty sketched by God’s hand?

Will they remember me?

Jan. 28, 2015 | I guess it was inevitable, but bit by bit, I’m losing my hair … I’m celebrating by buying a new Rays cap … I fear I will be one ugly cue ball, but on the upside, at least I won’t have to shave.

Feb. 4, 2015 | Yesterday, I was extremely lucky to have my son Walter with me for a session, and the time literally flew by as we reminisced and B.S.’d our way through two big bags … But the high point of the day, the thing that brought me and many others to tears, was the sound of that bell. … You ring the bell when you finish the course, the six months. … Believe me, you get through it, and there’s not a lot of you left. It’s hard. And the tentative way that patient rang the bell spoke to his or her suffering, and I pray, recovery.

When my time comes, I plan to ring it so hard that they can hear it on the first floor.

Feb. 7, 2015 | I could barely get out of bed or eat. … It’s called Cancer Fatigue; comes out of nowhere without any obvious trigger or cause, and can last anywhere from a couple days and up as tumors compete for nutrients, often at the expense of the normal cell’s growth and metabolism. So the bad cells are fighting the good cells for what little food I’ve been able to get down.

Feb. 10, 2015 | With cancer killing us at outrageous rates, why are we not, as a nation, investing much more in the search for a cure? For a country that’s achieved unbelievable scientific feats, where is our resolve? Who doesn’t know someone affected by cancer? There has to be a better way to “treat” cancer than filling patients full of poisons every few weeks and leaving them to writhe in painful side effects …

Feb. 11, 2015 | It’s become debilitating to swallow all those pills not once, but twice a day. … At bedtime last night I counted a total of 15 … Facing the twin challenges of dehydration and weight loss … I look in the mirror and all I see is skin and bones.

Feb. 14, 2015 | Cancer is hard. It makes you give up things so dear, so important to your past life before “C,” because you just don’t have the stamina. … You find yourself in tears reckoning with it, promising yourself that you really believe “I’ll make it next year” and “I’ll be okay.” But one’s mortality can’t stray far from your consciousness … Human nature is survival, the fight for life, and there is no doubt that is still very strong in me. I have no plan to “give up”. But I am questioning whether it’s not a good idea, considering the diagnosis, to think some things through. Is that wrong? Is that giving up the fight? I think not.

Feb. 16, 2015 | When your wedding ring falls off your finger, you know you’ve lost too much weight.

Feb. 17, 2015 | “The fight”… I never really understood exactly what that meant. I do now. It’s about forcing yourself to eat when you have virtually no appetite. Drinking liquids when you have no thirst. Getting up and walking when all you want to do is lay there. … It is a fight, a fight for mind over matter, to always stay positive, and not think about what you’ve temporarily lost from your life. You have to believe and commit to believing that all of it will be worth it.

Warren Elly, in the fight of his life against cancer 02/26/15 [Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2015 1:13pm]


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