Mystery Pain Turned Out To Be Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

By Nancy Hilbrands - October 17, 2022

When Kerrijo Ellis started having stomach and back pain around Thanksgiving 2021, doctors were baffled. Opinions varied from acid reflux to a urinary tract infection and fibroids.

The 28-year-old had a nagging feeling that something else was going on when nothing the doctors prescribed helped ease her pain. Worsening symptoms sent her to the emergency room. A concerning CT scan had doctors admit Ellis to the hospital right away.

A few days later, she was diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She spent most of her holidays in the hospital.

"Don’t ignore the signals your body gives that’s telling you something is wrong."

- Kerrijo Ellis

Ellis, originally from Jamaica, is pursuing her doctorate in curriculum and instruction at the University of South Florida’s Department of Educational and Psychological Studies. She chose Moffitt Cancer Center for her treatment due to the convenient location.

“I was told by multiple persons about the great work that Moffitt does for cancer patients,” Ellis said. “Many of the people who mentioned Moffitt knew other patients who had gone through treatment there and had amazing survivorship stories.” 

Kerrijo Ellis rings the bell at Moffitt to commemorate her final chemo treatment.
Kerrijo Ellis rings the bell at Moffitt to commemorate her final chemo treatment.

In January 2022, Ellis had her first appointment at Moffitt’s Malignant Hematology clinic. During her six cycles of chemotherapy, she continued taking classes at USF, even teaching an online course during the spring semester. On April 20, she rang the bell to celebrate her last treatment.

Ellis works part time as a graduate assistant in the College of Education. She was overwhelmed by the amount of support she received from her professors and colleagues at USF during her cancer treatment.

“I had always heard great things about the USF community, but I really got to experience that when I was diagnosed with cancer,” Ellis said. “So many departments, employees and individuals lent a hand during this very difficult time, which is something I will never forget.”

With cancer behind her, Ellis is back to focusing on her long-term goals and savoring life. She enjoys going to the beach, spending time with family, scrapbooking and binging Netflix. She hopes to secure an assistant professorship at a university’s college of education, where she can train and mentor future teachers who will have a meaningful impact.

After being misdiagnosed three times, Ellis has advice for others experiencing health issues.

“Don’t ignore the signals your body gives that’s telling you something is wrong,” Ellis shared. “Keep visiting your doctors and health care providers until you find out what’s wrong. Ultimately, it was my advocacy that led to my diagnosis. If I had believed everything I was told at first, I probably wouldn’t be here now.”

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