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Friday, April 26, 2013

"Beating the odds"

Akennia Ellis posing for SPSU team pictures.

           MARIETTA- Monday through Friday at 1:30pm and 3:00pm you will find her sitting in front of the television watching soap operas. During this time, her eyes are glued to the screen and the only time she's free is during the commercial breaks. In her spare time she competes in the online Words with Friends and poses in pictures for Instagram. She always has a great story to tell and a valuable lesson to teach. Although she walks with a slight limp, her presence still lights up every room. Akennia Ellis, 24, is a former athlete from Southern Polytechnic State University who recovered from cancer.
            Originally from Miami, Fla, Akennia moved to Marietta, Ga to start her college career in August of 2007. She had two successful years in basketball and in the accounting program before her emotional journey began. Akennia was playing on the court when she discovered pains in her right leg. First, she visited the school trainer for help, and then was told that it was probably a case of tendinitis. After this visit, she experienced another injury to the same leg. Oddly, a big knot grew on her right leg, but it did not heal. Akennia was concerned, so she decided to visit a doctor for further information. The doctor performed an X-ray on the right leg and the results were not what she wanted to hear.   
            Akennia was diagnosed with ostersarcoma of the right femur. Ostersarcoma, also called osteogenic sarcoma, is a malignant cancer that starts in the bones. It’s not a common type of cancer, but it’s a cancer that usually develops in teenagers. The cause of the cancer is unknown and it usually occurs in large bones and in the area of bone with the fastest growing rate. Some symptoms of osteosarcoma include: bone pain, limitation of motion, bone fracture, limping (if tumor is in leg), pain when lifting (if tumor is in arm), and tenderness, swelling, and redness at the site of the tumor.
            Treatment usually starts after a biopsy of the tumor is performed.  Before any major surgeries take place, chemotherapy is given to the patient. Then surgery is a follow up procedure used to remove any remaining tumor. Akennia began her treatment for ostersarcoma two months after her diagnosis. Initially, her insurance would not cover the medical expenses because she was Florida resident in Georgia seeking extensive medical care. After a few debates, the insurance covered the majority of the expenses. The treatment, itself, took four months for Akennia to complete.
            During the treatment, Akennia went through four surgeries, a metal rod implant, IV therapy, blood transfusions, a series of medications, a feeding tube, and she experienced a lot of physical changes.
            “The challenging part about being sick was the side effects,” Akennia said.
Some of the physical changes included: loss of hair, excessive skin peeling, darker skin complexion, dry skin, weight loss, and the loss of eyebrows. Besides the physical changes, Akennia was unable to play basketball with her teammates.
             “It might sound crazy, but I wasn’t even thinking about life at the time. I was really thinking about me not being able to play basketball anymore,” Akennia said.
            Once Akennia started undergoing treatment, she realized that this was really her life. The medications took a lot out of her and it was very tough experience to go through. There were times when she wanted to give up, but the support of her family, friends, and teammates kept her going. After four long months, Akennia was told that the cancer was gone. Although she was cancer free, Akennia was told that she would not be able to play basketball again. 

Southern Polytechnic State University Women's Basketball team wearing all pink for cancer awareness.
             Recovering from cancer was a huge milestone for Akennia and her battle inspired many people. Alex Sanabria, a former teammate and friend of 10 years, views Akennia like a sister. They use to play high school basketball together and have weekend sleepovers at each other’s houses.  After Sanabria found out Akennia was diagnosed with cancer, she was lost for words.
            “I mean that was shocking. Your best friend is going through something so severe. It hurt,” said Sanabria.
While Akennia struggled through treatment, Sanabria had to cope with her best friend living with cancer. The person she knew for 10 years had to battle to stay alive.
            “I can only imagine how hard it was for her and just seeing her in pain and you can’t do anything, that makes it even worse,” said Sanabria.      
             Sabrina McCants, a close friend and former roommate, believes Akennia’s journey is a miracle. McCants used to visit Akennia while she was in the hospital. Sometimes she would bring Akennia little gifts and treats to brighten her day or to put a smile on her face.
            “She didn’t want people to see her in the hospital, but we wanted to make her feel loved,” said McCants.
Any person struggling through cancer has the weight of the world on their shoulders. Akennia went through physical, mental, and emotional changes.
            “She changed for the better. Anyone that is able to witness a miracle can only go up from there. It was a positive experience, not throughout, but of course afterwards,” said McCants.   
McCants feels that Akennia is a strong, independent, and genuine individual. Her story is a gift from God and she believes that she is a walking survivor.
              Akennia’s battle through cancer had a major impact on my life as well. I had the opportunity to know her before her diagnosis, so I saw how the cancer unfolded. I did not have any knowledge about this type of cancer, but Akennia helped fill in the blanks. She explained the medical treatments, medication, and chemotherapy process. As a result, I was able to learn more about osteosarcoma and how to be more proactive with my health. Akennia was very open and inspirational about her experiences, and she taught some valuable lessons along the way. Since her recovery, our relationship has become even stronger and our bond is unbreakable. 

A slice of strawberry cheesecake for Akennia's 24th Birthday.
             Recently, Akennia became a member of the Young Adult Cancer Survivors program at the Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta, Ga. It’s a support group that is available to individuals who have or had cancer. Members of YACS gather monthly for dinner, drinks, trivia, and to hang out.  It’s an opportunity for young women and men to meet new friends and learn about their personal experiences. Akennia hopes to learn more about cancer and some of the preventions, so she can live a healthier life in the future.    
             To conclude, many people battle with cancer, but some do not get the chance to see recovery. In many cases, the victims are either too late or they have fought as long as they could. Being proactive about your health is the best solution.“It’s better to know, than not to know. More people live, than die. It’s important to keep your health first. Stop stressing about the simple things and appreciate your life,” said Akennia.


  1. That's my cousin! Very nice write-up on the old girl... :-D

  2. Thank you for the compliment. Her story was very difficult, but inspiring to write. I love Akennia, so I had to fight some tears to get the words on paper. However, I was able to learn more and build on our relationship. Thanks again for your comment, and I hope you come back to visit A Taste of Heaven. Have a great day!