The sun's warmth on a cool Sunday afternoon not only warms your physical being, but it warms your heart as you think about the excitement of the residents at Trigg Manor when someone enters that front door. They are always eager for your smiles, your pats on the hand, or just a few minutes of your time to have a nice chat. Today would be a chat with someone special, Mrs. Ophelia Ellis.
It was another of those unusual weather days we have been experiencing lately. No snow today, but fairly cool temperatures for May. One thing for sure, it wasn't cool inside Trigg Manor. Groups of ladies were having an enjoyable conversation, some were working puzzles and some were coming from the dining room with a look of contentment on their faces. Just down the hall from the nurses' station, Ellis was enjoying a Sunday morning look at something on her television. I introduced myself and shared my purpose for the visit.
Hanging on the wall to my left was a framed card that said "Happy 104th Birthday Granny Ellis." My mind began to quickly go to my grandfather who was 104 when he passed away. I thought of all of the wonderful times we had together and how my life had been enriched in ways beyond words because of him. I knew it must be the same way for Ellis and her family, too.
It was hard to believe that this vivacious, alert, funny and most entertaining "young lady" would be 105 years old on June 20, 2004. "I've lived in three centuries," she said.
What a feat! What a history book she is! Ellis retired at the age of 70 from Columbus State Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. We had a great time talking about her family and the Thomas/Bridges Association.
In 1991, Ellis found out she had Lymphoma, a form of cancer that attacks the lymph system. When asked what her first thoughts were she replied, "I thought I was going to die, but I guess the Lord wasn't ready for me to go."
At age 91, Ellis entered her battle with cancer going for treatments every week for five weeks. It was apparent to me as I sat next to her that cancer had no idea what a match it had met when it surfaced in her body. They always say that a big part of the battle in the fight against cancer is attitude and you've never seen anyone with such a positive attitude and outlook on life as Ophelia Ellis. Combine that determination with the continuing research to find cures for cancer and you have a cancer survivor that is an example for us all.
I asked Ellis, "What do you think about the Relay for Life?" and she responded with, "I think it's a wonderful thing. They want me to come this year and I'm not sure I feel up to it. I've always done all I could for the Relay. I made a quilt out of old neck ties (pointong to a sample square across the room) from all over the United States and Malaysia and donated it to the Relay for Life."
Since her retirement, Ellis has made over 100 quilts by hand. After five surgeries, she says her vision is perfect and she loves to read, showing me a stack of books she gets when the bookmobile stops by. I certainly had a moment of reflection on my times of "woe is me" and all I "should" be thankful for.
"What advice would you give to people who learn they have cancer?" I asked Ellis. Silence filled the room and she reflected on her thoughts about the question. "Oh, I don't know, not to give up I guess," was her reply. Cancer had changed her as it changes everyone it comes in contact with. Thirteen years and counting! Thirteen years will not be the most or the least number of years for a cancer survivor at this years Relay for Life May 14 and 15. But these past 13 years have not slowed Ellis' resolve to live her life to the fullest. We may not see Ophelia Ellis at the Relay, and that's OK, but don't miss a chance to see her quilt made from ties. Maybe we should title her quilt, "The Ties That Bind." There is an unspoken bond among cancer survivors around the world, a bond of support, love and encouragement that never unravels.