It’s funny when you know a great deal about someone and yet be completely unaware of certain things that exist in their lives. When I approached all my family and friends about writing articles for our website, Elaine Eldred, felt that she would have nothing to write about. Well, as I explained to my oldest sister, her fight and eventual success with breast cancer was something worthy of penning a story about. I have always looked up to my sister. She being the oldest of us five and me being the youngest, created a lifelong connection for us, and I always felt we knew each other the best of all of us. Besides being a huge part of raising me, she was always near when I needed someone. I eventually went to college in the neighboring town to where she was living, and we have remained close our entire lives. In the last 7 to 10 years she has become a rabid sports fan, especially when it comes to NCAA men’s basketball. Now that I live in Las Vegas, I, too, have become a fan and season ticket holder for the Running Rebels of UNLV. We playfully fight a lot now, especially since she has become a huge homer of the Duke Blue Devils. My nephew began there a number of years ago, so I got the connection, but when he graduated, she kept on with her fandom. Now I understand why.
Here is a great story of personal triumph and one that involves my sister, whom I love dearly. – Cory Antflick
It was the Fall of 2006: My world was great. My son, Spencer, started at Duke University on a scholarship; my daughter, Laura, was a junior in high school, doing the college prep stuff and my baby, Natalie, was entering middle school and was very excited about academics and band. My husband was working and I was the school volunteer mother.
In October, around my 51st birthday, I went in for my routine mammogram. I’ve always been nervous about those mammos. My mom had breast cancer, so did her mother and my maternal aunt, so I was very diligent about it. I had 2 previous benign biopsies many, many years before that. I began to suffer from hot flashes, so I knew that I was going through menopause.
Little did I know, how life changes so very quickly.
The radiologist found a mass on my left breast that was suspicious. My world was starting to fall apart. It was followed with a visit to an oncologist, one that I knew from his kids, so I felt comfortable. We scheduled a lumpectomy. The surgery was not successful because of the margins and a second lumpectomy was done. I had ductal cell carcinoma, ‘in situ’, early stage and not yet invasive. I was very lucky, no chemo needed, just radiation. April comes and I go meet the radiologist to see about radiation. He said I had a constellation of calcifications (a sign of more cancer to come), with a recommendation to undergo a mastectomy. In May, I had a left side mastectomy and set up an appointment with a plastic surgeon for reconstruction-not until September, though. My first reconstruction surgery was in September and then I scheduled my routine mammo for the right side in October… a year ago everything was just fine on the right side. I was asked to not leave the radiology office …they whisked me away to the office break room, couldn’t talk to me …I had no idea what was happening ….they didn’t want me alone or with the other patients …2 hours later I needed to wait for a needle biopsy. I was alone and scared. During the procedure, the radiologist nicked a blood vessel and started to yell at me for something he did. We had to terminate the procedure and said for me to come back…hell if I’m going back! I called my husband at work from the car. I was alone and crying. I called my oncologist from the car as well, telling him that I was not going back. He said not to worry, he would take care of me. It turns out, 2 types of cancer were present: ‘in situ’ as in the left side and now invasive …I would need another mastectomy.
My daughter Natalie’s bat mitzvah was coming up in January and I needed to be all together to prepare. My doctor gave me an option to do a lumpectomy in November to delay the inevitable for a while and scheduled the second mastectomy for mid-January. Figured I could get a ‘matched set’ with plastic surgery! It is said that we are ‘Survivors” … I don’t believe one bit of it …I consider it an ‘Endurance Test’ instead!
Ken and I threw a beautiful bat mitzvah, Natalie was great. Family came in from everywhere and it was a wonderful party. I made the decision to keep my health issues to myself regarding the second mastectomy. I wanted to focus on my family and I remember sitting there at all the events looking around and feeling that love was everywhere. These people were important to me and I was so happy they were there and having a blast. I wanted this event to be the emphasis, not me.
During all this time, life was passing. I was recovering in bed. Alone in the daytime (I wanted that) and I looked forward to Natalie coming home from school and sitting on my bed and telling me about her day. I felt terribly guilty, but she was a good student and it really helped that she became very self-sufficient. She never complained. Laura had a friend move in who needed a place to stay. They both distracted each other (in a good way) and it was a great arrangement. We decided not to bother Spencer too much as to what was happening. I didn’t want him distracted from his studies. My guilt was there, but I knew l would be ok.
Spencer started at Duke in the fall of 2006. In November 2005 we went out to North Carolina to visit Duke and a couple other schools with a friend of his and his mom. We travelled well together as we all knew each other for years. That was a great visit. By chance, we were able to get basketball tickets that were turned in that day. Our first basketball game! Believe me, we were not a sports family, my husband never watched sports on TV. Spencer was a ball boy growing up for four years at the Pacific Life Tennis tournament (later the BNP Paribas in Indian Wells), and that was the extent of the sports watching. Spencer was hooked on Duke and I think we were too. More importantly, they offered Spencer an academic scholarship the following year. He was happy to accept it.
Why do I even mention basketball? Lying in bed, I believe now that depression was setting in. Between the two mastectomies, reconstruction (I think about 9 surgeries in all – though time had flowed together), drains, wearing pajamas all the time (my shirts were too painful), I began to sink into myself …Spencer asked us to turn on the Duke basketball game. He got into the basketball culture as a ‘Cameron Crazie’. He was doing well academically, and found out that cheering for the team was a wonderful experience. He and his friends would ‘dress up’, full Blue Devil regalia, and he would text me where they would be in the Cameron Hall. Ken and I would look for him. It was great. I looked forward to watching the Duke games on television. When I watched my spirits were lifted. I got to see my kid on the sidelines jumping up and down with a blue painted face and it made me happy.
Funny thing is …I started having an opinion about the games, started a little study of Coach K and college basketball in general. When college basketball season ended, I felt a little empty and couldn’t wait for the next season to start. I paid attention to who was recruited, started watching ESPN for ANYTHING related to college hoops, especially the ACC. I loved having an opinion on other coaches. Even the commentators …Dickie V – love him! So many commentators were Duke players in college. I even remember being so angry with Jay Bilas for berating the team in a bad year. I began getting familiar with the coaches …the Clemson coach reminded me of Louis Gossett Jr. (since retired). What I especially connected to was Coach K himself …how he conducted himself, how he led the team …what the team looked like as a whole. In a little way, I was happy that they looked respectful, acted respectful and treated their coach like no other. Coach K as a person is what I like. He has dedicated himself to the Jimmy V Foundation (for Jim Valvano), the basketball coach who passed away from cancer. Coach k had coached the Dream Team, the Olympic team …I think he is the greatest coach (sorry Coach Wooden). Over the years that I have watched, I have tried not to miss a game. I HATE it when it is not nationally televised. Thankfully, they have a good ESPN contract!
I began to wonder why the Duke team was so hated. The “private school” image definitely didn’t help, however many of the students were not privileged and were (as my son) scholarship kids. ESPN just televised the special 30 for 30 on Christian Laettner (a player in the 80’s) and I picked up the history of why they are so hated. The prep school versus the state school goes way back. The history with Duke and Michigan and Duke and UNLV …UNC and Duke have this rivalry that has been considered the best in the country. Some people love to be haters …I love to have basketball conversations, hang on to those willing to talk about it.
My cancer? I don’t obsess over my cancer. At this moment in time, I am cancer free. I tested negative for the BRACA gene, (a very good thing for my daughters) and I take a drug called Arimidex that has side effects, however, those beat the alternative. Cancer happened to me. College basketball and Coach K also happened. It was nothing I planned, but as a wonderful gift to getting through my greatest challenge, I discovered the most welcome distraction. I am wearing my 2010 Duke National Championship shirt today with my Duke earrings. When my son goes back for his 5 year college reunion this month I am having him pick up some 2015 championship t-shirts. I will remain a Duke fan for years to come, a gentle reminder that the battles will always go on.
– Elaine Eldred