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Ripon CNA conquers cancer, heart trouble; now jogging for research

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POSTED November 22, 2012 10:02 p.m.

She feels touched by her own personal angels as she faced the challenges of Hodgkin’s lymphoma that was followed by heart disease years later, which had been caused by earlier massive doses of radiation used to cure the cancer.

                Eli collapsed at work in 2010 and was rushed to a hospital where doctors eventually told her she would never be the same and that walking would be difficult for her at best.  Her strong faith and the support of those angels in her life proved the doctors totally wrong.

                Not only is she deemed cancer free with a heart that has been repaired against all odds, but she has walked the distance of the Nike Women’s Half Marathon fundraiser in San Francisco on October 14, raising $5,025 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Association.  Her goal had been thousands of dollars less; however she surpassed that amount. 

                Passionate about raising money for the cancer group, she has now laid plans to go to Washington, D.C., for her second 13.1 mile Half-Marathon with hopes of finding sponsors from Manteca, Ripon and Modesto to help her realize her new $6,400 fund-raising goal in the nation’s capital.

                “When I went through cancer, it was so scary and I was devastated.  My faith stood the test – I never lost my faith,” she said of the times she went through chemotherapy and congestive heart failure.

                Years  after the lymphoma attack, she recalled feeling sick again and ready to collapse at work, but this time it was different; it wasn’t the cancer coming back.  She was transported to Kaiser Hospital. 

“It was my heart and I didn’t want to die,” she said.  “My husband Richard asked for prayers at Bethany and then went on Facebook and asked people to pray for me.”

A surgeon was finally located who took on the challenge of operating on her that others had sidestepped making the difference for her future with the opportunity to return to Bethany Home where she wanted to care for her residents.

Eli said the reason she took on the fund-raising walk-a-thons was that she didn’t want anyone – especially her family and friends – to go through what she had gone through in her cancer fight.

A native of Brazil, she had immigrated to the East Coast and became a nanny for three different families before moving west and marrying her husband Richard.  She said this past week that despite the fact they have no children; “we are the children,” she said, always having fun with each other in their marriage.  In Brazil she was an elementary school teacher.

 In addition to being in a strange country when she came to the U.S., she would lose members of her family including both of her parents along with a brother and a sister – the same illnesses that plagued her after she married.

Eli ignored what doctors had predicted for her recovery after surgery for her heart condition having been caused by the chemotherapy she received for her cancer.   She found a group of women who teamed up to support cancer survivors.   They were attempting to make a difference in their lives through their “Team in Training” for Half-Marathon challenges in the hills of San Francisco.

The Ripon certified nurses’ aide initially began training in the hills of Knights Ferry every Saturday last spring continuing for some six months.  She soon found herself exhausted and ready to give up.  It was a challenge she felt was just too much for her to overcome.  That’s when three of her special angels stepped into the picture to nudge her to go through those many extra miles of rigorous training.  It would prepare her well for the San Francisco competition despite her body’s resistance and doctors’ expectations.   

Trish Christensen, Debbie Sanders and Stacy Van Laar, all of Modesto, using their expertise for the walkathon training, readied Eli and others for the back-to-life physical exercise experience.

It was those three women who were there for Eli in Nike’s 13.1 mile event when she was about to give it all up at the bottom of a hill, thinking she couldn’t go any farther.  The trio had been waiting for her at mile nine on the course, where they shocked her by calling out her name.  They all had recognized her heavy breathing and symptoms of exhaustion, as they joined in and clasped hands in their team effort for the next nine miles to the finish line.

“They were worried about me.  I asked Debbie why they had waited for me.”  She said, “It was simply because they were my teammates, my friends, and they cared about me.”

“I was doing pretty well until mile six at the Presidio where I got very emotional because  the doctor had told me my life would never be the same,” she recalled.  “The only way my husband and my doctor would let me compete was for me to promise that I would stop if I got too tired.”

Every entrant who enters the cancer research fundraiser and crosses the finish line gets a prized silver Tiffany necklace in its classic blue box with an engraved charm attached.  Eli finished the event and she too got her necklace with tears streaming down her cheeks.

She already had a Tiffany necklace and charm that had been given to her earlier by a supportive friend, Jennifer Heather, from her past Full Marathon competition.   It had Jennifer’s engraving, “26.2 miles – Inspired.”

Eli stressed with a shaky voice, “What Jennifer did for me, I cannot express.”

 “As a team we became family.  We have fun together and we cry together,” she said of her true friendships that have changed her life forever with a new love for life and a resurgent hope for others.

Eli is seen every week caring for her patients at Bethany Home.  She walks in the front door smiling, greeting everyone she passes and walks out that same door at the end of her shift showing her appreciation for life that she worked hard to keep with the aid of her faith – and of her angels.

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