SHU sophomore and new movie “50/50” battle tumor with humor
What started off as a series of migraines took a turn for the worse this summer when junior Kayleigh Ellison experienced a Jacksonian seizure, which is normally associated with epilepsy. But after a CT scan, her doctors told her they could see something in her brain, but were unsure of what it was.
While in the hospital for the week on watch and waiting for her test results, Ellison maintained her sense of sarcastic humor she always has. She explained how one lady came in and told her she liked to monitor the cameras because Ellison acted “goofy.”
Then she received the diagnosis.
“While I was there [in the seizure ward],” said Ellison, “my neurosurgeon came in and was like there’s a tumor on your left frontal lobe and it was sitting on my motor cortex. That’s why when I had my seizure, the right side of my body was paralyzed. He’s like we’re pretty sure it’s a Type II at most, probably a Type I, but should be a simple resection and then we’re done with it. So we set the day for my surgery – July 5.”
Although Ellison had to face the reality of the situation, she found a way to be positive and keep faith throughout it all.
“I was just kind of in shock at the beginning and then I was like eh, whatever,” she said. “Last year I was really discerning religious life and I was about to enter a religious community. The week before I had my seizure I had sent them a letter and told them I was in perfect health – that’s one of the things that you have to be, because it’s Mother Teresa’s order. That’s probably the reason why I was able to handle it the way I did. I was at a good place with my faith so I wasn’t too worried about it. I was either going to make it or I wasn’t.”
The way Ellison dealt with cancer is different because of the way she reacted to the news. Instead of responding like most would have, given her situation, she used humor to cope with the tumor that she affectionately named Tammy.
When the neurosurgeon told Ellison that the tumor was cancerous, she replied by saying “No, I’m a Leo.”
Ellison’s story bears resemblance to the movie “50/50,” which opens Friday, Sept. 30. In the film, Adam, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, finds out he has cancer and struggles to beat the disease. With the help of his friend Kyle, played by Seth Rogen, they find humor in the situation while coping with the reality of what could happen.
Anna Kendrick, who plays Adam’s therapist, offers him the advice, “You can’t change your situation. The only thing you can change is how you choose to deal with that.” That is exactly the mind set both Ellison, as well as the fictional Adam decided to take.
“My friends and I make cancer jokes all the time,” said Ellison. “Like if I don’t want to do something I’ll be like ‘Oh I can’t. I have brain cancer.’ We mess with people constantly. I can’t even think of all the jokes I’ve made. It’s not even normal.”
Ellison started a tumblr (a personal blog), where she posted about her tumor. She wrote in the same light and humorous manner as she mapped out her journey from finding out about her tumor until the surgery, which included having to shave her hair.
In “50/50,” Adam shaves his hair during his cancer treatment, but finds the bright side: it becomes a way to pick up girls.
Ellison did not have a choice whether she wanted to cut her hair or not. Although she joked that the neurosurgeon suggested not cutting all of it, but instead leaving enough hair for a mullet, she admitted that it was one of the most difficult things she dealt with.
“That was probably the hardest for me,” said Ellison. “It took me forever to get my hair as long as it was last year…when they were shaving it to put the probes on for the MRI, I think I started to have a little bit of a panic attack and he was trying to calm me down. I was like you’re shaving my head, I really don’t know how you want me to calm down. Like you’re shaving little patches into my head, I’m going to look like an idiot for the next 24 hours and then after that – bald.”
Despite her hair loss, she made the best of the situation by donating her hair to Locks of Love.
Ellison underwent a successful surgery, in which Tammy the tumor was removed. After the surgery, however, she was paralyzed for a week and a half. Eventually, Ellison was able to start walking, and soon after she was sent to rehab. According to her tumblr, the doctors say the tumor is slowly growing and will return in eight to 10 years. But Ellison said she has hope that there will be something to fight Tammy when she returns.
“A lot of the time I would put things on my blog or Facebook and I would crack jokes and people were like ‘Oh you’re handling it so well,'” Ellison said. “But I never thought of handling it another way. It was just like you make a joke out of everything. That’s how it is. I guess that’s how my family’s always been or maybe just how I’ve been.”
Patrice Kubik can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch the trailer for “50/50” here.