After Mammogram Reveals Cancer, Mom of 3 Fights Back

Abby Ellington (left) dons her pink boxing gloves for her ongoing fight against breast cancer. She is pictured with her surgeon, Ronda Henry-Tillman, M.D.

Abby Ellington (left) dons pink boxing gloves for her ongoing fight against breast cancer. She is pictured with her surgeon, Ronda Henry-Tillman, M.D.

| When Abby Ellington got the call about a suspicious spot on her mammogram, she wasn’t worried.

She had a scare seven years earlier, before a biopsy revealed her to be cancer free. Since then, she diligently continued her annual exams and was certain that this would be a repeat of her first experience.

After undergoing a second biopsy on a Friday in April 2018, her phone rang the following Tuesday.

“That’s when I got the diagnosis of breast cancer,” she said.

The mother of three daughters, 48-year-old Ellington immediately knew she wanted a second opinion and quickly made an appointment with Ronda Henry-Tillman, M.D., in the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. Henry-Tillman serves as chief of breast surgical oncology in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Surgery.

When a pathology review confirmed the diagnosis of breast cancer, Henry-Tillman sent Ellington for a breast MRI to obtain as much information as possible about the extent of her disease. That’s when it all became a reality for Ellington.

“I started crying. I was overcome with fear,” Ellington said.

With the reassurance that she was receiving the best possible care, Ellington carefully weighed her options, which included a breast-conserving lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy, or a mastectomy with or without reconstruction.

After discussion with her family, she prepared for a bilateral mastectomy and the first stages of reconstruction, which were performed simultaneously.

During the surgery, Henry-Tillman discovered that while Ellington’s tumor was small, it had already spread to two lymph nodes.

Additional pathology results revealed that while her tumor was grade 1, which tends to grow and spread slowly, it also had a high level of Ki-67 protein that can speed cell growth.

“The biology of her cancer made it unique,” Henry-Tillman said.

Following surgery, Ellington soon began eight rounds of chemo, which she completed in early October 2018.

“The chemo was very strong and hard to take. At first I thought of it as poison, until one of my nurses said that’s not what it is. It’s actually healing me. So from then on, I thought of it differently,” she said.

While chemo can be difficult to tolerate, it serves an important purpose for patients whose cancer has already spread.

“When we treat breast cancer, we don’t want it to come back. With the help of chemo, we can often put cancer in remission and then treat it as if it were any chronic illness,” Henry-Tillman said, adding that the support Ellington’s family was also an important part of her recovery.

“She has a wonderful support system, which is really important. She also followed her doctor’s orders and was very diligent about her annual mammograms. All of that, along with her fighting spirit, helped her get through this treatment,” Henry-Tillman said.

With radiation therapy starting soon at the UAMS Radiation Oncology Center, Ellington said this experience has revealed her inner strength. Although she is still in the fight, her advice to other women experiencing breast cancer is to be strong, have courage and never give up.

“It has been a fight, but I came prepared. I am a conqueror, and I’m knocking out cancer. I will do everything I can to fight it,” she said.