Today, Elli Thatcher’s life changes forever.
The Columbus, Ohio resident will undergo an 11½ hour procedure to remove a 6-centimeter tumor that sits in a space of her neck and extends all the way to her skull.
Thatcher is scared. She has lost sleep fretting about the unknowns: Is this mass cancerous? Will the doctors be able to reach the entire tumor, which is adjacent to the vagus nerve, essential to the body’s nervous system?
There have been seemingly endless tests, scans and minor surgeries these past 45 days. During this challenging time, Thatcher has leaned on her boyfriend to keep things as “normal” as possible.
At the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, he’s just another face.
But 271 miles away – in Notre Dame, Indiana – DeShone Kizer is making a name for himself as a third-string quarterback on the Notre Dame football team.
The couple started a blog together, 271 Miles, to share the “tumors, touchdowns and triumph” with family and friends. In just two months, Thatcher says her audience expanded to 29 countries and generated 18,000 page views. She’s elated.
“I always felt like the quieter something was kept, the scarier it seemed,” she said. “I wanted to share my story to inspire other people and allow others to give me strength throughout this experience.”
Thatcher said she’s heard from many readers, with offerings of prayers and well wishes.
“It is really beautiful to see how many people have such generous hearts,” she said.
The blog has also been a therapeutic outlet for the couple during a stressful time. In a recent entry, DeShone confessed that Thatcher’s situation had consumed his daily thoughts:
I thought that maybe football would be my get away. But, in all honesty, it becomes some of the worst times of sadness. I catch myself mentally leaving the turf and thinking about how Ell is feeling or if she slept the night before….or anything else that has nothing to do with football and everything to do with the beautiful girl lying in bed 271 miles away from me.
Thatcher admits that having Kizer closer “would help,” but she still supports his dream.
“This is what he worked for all along and it is definitely great to see him finally living what he worked for,” she said.
When Kizer takes the field Saturday during the annual Blue/Gold game, he’ll have a cheering section back at the Ohio hospital.
“I wish I could be there more than anything,” said Thatcher, who faces a 4 to 6 month recovery process after today’s surgery. “I will make sure to keep updated and wear my Notre Dame gear!”
While Thatcher and her family – which includes younger brothers Cameron and Joey – have always been huge sports fans, Kizer had to help convert them to Irish supporters.
Thatcher actually attends The Ohio State University, although she withdrew from spring classes to focus on her recovery. She’s a pre-med major who has worked at the very hospital where she’ll undergo surgery.
“I now know how strongly I want to pursue a career in medicine,” she said. “I feel I can do my job a lot better after knowing what it is like to be on the other side of things.”
Thatcher said she is comfortable talking about her diagnosis with others because it helps avoid confusion and fear.
For the past five years, she’s struggled as repeated doctor visits yielded few answers. She struggled with depression, pain, discomfort, anger, and a lack of energy. Her vocal cords and her tongue on the right side are both paralyzed, leaving her hoarse and unable to project her voice. Her voice and speech are forever changed. When doctors discovered the tumor, she finally had an answer that had been eluding her.
“I am just happy to know that what I was feeling was true,” she said. “I am ready for whatever else this tumor may bring.”
Thatcher knows, at a minimum, the surgery will leave her with a permanent scar down her face and neck. It will be a visual reminder of this life-changing event.
“You can’t let [the diagnosis] change you,” she said. “It is all right to cry and be upset. That is completely normal. This experience is very scary! But you have to accept the challenge and be ready to fight.”
Thatcher is drawing strength from everyone around her – not only from her family, her doctors, and Kizer, but from a higher power.
“I rely a lot on God,” she said. “I know the situation I am in is out of my hands so I have to have faith and trust in Him.”
And so Thatcher will take that leap of faith in the next step of her journey. Others will join her in their own way whether it is the presence of close friends and family, the love of Kizer 271 miles away, or in the thoughts and prayers of those that follow the mile markers in Thatcher’s journey.
Here at HLS, the unexpected connections that we manage to make never cease to amaze us. We all feel incredibly honored that Elli allowed us to be a part of her journey and we hope that you feel that it is one worth following as we do.
All of us here at HLS, and I’m sure many in the Notre Dame family, hope and pray for a successful surgery and a speedy recovery. We all want nothing more than for this journey to have a story-book ending.
Update [4/17/2015]: Elli’s doctors were able to successfully remove all of her tumor; however, she appears to be unable to move her left leg from the knee down. Doctors are still running tests to see if function in her leg will return. Kizer has written a post about the entire day and how updates unfolded and it is certainly wroth a read. We will of course keep you updated on Elli’s condition.
Update #2 [4/12/2015]: Elli has finally felt well enough to post another mile marker. Please make sure to check it out!