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Bald is Beautiful

When Ellie Rezabek-Turner heard her grown daughter Nicky O’Meara instruct her to “Sit down on the couch, Mom, we’re going to talk,” she grew curious…

Ellie, after all, was the one who’d had a lot of talks with people. Diagnosed with breast cancer last fall, she’d undergone extensive surgery and recently started chemotherapy. So what exactly did Nicky need to talk to her about?

“It turned out my kids started a movement that will help others get the healing care I’ve gotten,” says Ellie, tears filling her eyes. “I can’t believe they did this.”

The “movement” began with Nicky’s husband, John. Without Ellie knowing, he sent an e-mail to about 50 friends and relatives. An excerpt:

“… We know Ellie has been on an emotional rollercoaster and I along with my two boys, Vince (age 13) and Joe (age 11), decided she could use some laughter, joy and support along the way in her battle. We also saw that in providing her with support, we could find an opportunity to help others. We’re encouraging people to donate money in Ellie’s honor and support the embrace cancer survivorship program at Roger Maris Cancer Center… The boys and I will be going bald to help beat cancer. We will be receiving our haircuts on Jan. 14…”

In just two weeks, more than $1,000 came in -- checks from as far away as California, bills of all denominations and countless well wishes to Ellie.

“When Nicky told me what they’d done, you could’ve been blown me away with a feather,” says Ellie.

A family journey, too

Ellie would be the first to say a cancer diagnosis touches the lives of many, but it starts with one. “Even I was intimidated by the diagnosis and what it meant, and I’ve been in medicine for 42 years,” she says. “I had visions of my life ending and I wasn’t ready yet.” A psychiatric nurse, Ellie took a medical leave of absence to fight cancer.

Immediately after the diagnosis, she turned to her friends. “They’re the most incredible group in the world -- my 'Ya-Ya Sisterhood,'” she says. “We’ve been through everything together. They knew my anguish.”

In a matter of days, Ellie had the composure to one-by-one tell her four grown children, all living hundreds of miles away. “Telling them was the hardest thing,” she says. “I didn’t want them to worry about me. And I didn’t want my grandchildren to worry.”

But as soon as she told them, something important happened. They surrounded her with support -- texts, prayers, phone calls and visits. Almost every time she’s had surgery or chemotherapy, one of the children has arranged to be with her at home in Wahpeton, N.D.

A gift beyond measure

In late January, Nicky from Moline, Ill., accompanied Ellie to the Cancer Center in Fargo. Together they presented the donations to Leah Swenson, nurse practitioner on Ellie’s care team. Leah received the gift on behalf of Ellie’s oncologist Dr. Anu Gaba and embrace.

“Leah, I’m so glad you’re here,” says Ellie, hugging her. “Leah has a special place in my heart because she’s the person who swore we’d have better days. I knew I’d smile again someday.”

Minutes later Ellie never stops smiling as she studies snapshots of John, Vince and Joe getting their heads shaved. Tufts of gray and brown hair cover the floor.

And if they could see Ellie today -- her gold suede boots, black suit, ebony hair and amazing spirit -- they wouldn’t stop smiling either.

“I believe that no matter what happens, everything will be okay,” says Ellie. “If you have your attitude in place, if you have your family and friends, you have all the blessings you’ll ever need.”

You can make a difference for cancer patients, too. Posted Date: March 2011