Widow’s book a tool for therapy

Published 10:46 pm Friday, February 27, 2009

After her husband died, Doris Ellis felt alone and heartbroken.

“I was just so lonely, even though I was surrounded by (grandchildren) in the house,” she said.

It was out of her pain and loneliness that Ellis wrote a book as a tribute to her husband. She will sign copies of her book, “Going Out a Champion: The Coach Joe Ellis Story,” at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel, 1018 Centerbrooke Lane (off Godwin Boulevard), today from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Email newsletter signup

Ellis’ husband, Joe Ellis, was the head basketball coach at Surry County High School for 13 years. Also an assistant coach for the high school’s football team and an elementary school teacher, Coach Ellis was well-known and well-liked throughout the entire school system, his wife said in a phone interview on Thursday.

However, in August 2003, doctors discovered that Ellis had colon cancer. During scheduled surgery later that month, doctors found the situation was even worse than they originally had thought.

“They just closed him back up because they discovered cancer throughout his body,” Doris Ellis said. “We determined we were going to beat it.”

The couple and their family kept on with their normal activities. After his recovery from the surgery, Ellis was back on the sidelines at football games, in between taking chemotherapy treatments at the hospital.

Once football season ended, the basketball team began gearing up for its season. Ellis began feeling better and gaining back weight, which gave him and his wife some hope.

However, toward the end of 2004, Ellis’ oncologist told him he had exhausted all methods of chemotherapy, and sent him to Duke University to try a round of experimental drugs. Ellis began to weaken again, and had to retire from teaching.

However, he just couldn’t leave his basketball team, his wife said. Many times, the couple would travel straight to a game after leaving a chemotherapy treatment or the emergency room.

“The guys just fought around and around him,” she said.

In March 2005, Ellis’ basketball team made it to the Virginia High School State Championship. On the day of the championship game, Ellis was so weak that he had to come to the gymnasium in a wheelchair. The Surry County High School Cougars won the state championship.

“He told a bunch of reporters that at least he could go out a state champion,” Doris Ellis said.

Two months later, Coach Ellis died. Consumed by her grief but wanting something positive to come out of it, Doris Ellis started to record her thoughts on paper.

“For the most part, it was therapeutic for me,” she said. “It was easy to write, reliving some of the fun things we did as a couple and as a family.”

However, as the book drew to a close, it became increasingly tough, she said.

“The difficult part was reliving his death scene and saying goodbye,” Ellis said.

Ellis got the idea to fashion her thoughts into a book when someone approached her husband’s best friend to ask her about someone else being a ghost writer for a book about Ellis’ life.

“I just kind of chuckled and said, ‘I can write it myself,’” she said.

Ellis said that keeping the technical aspects of the book straight was not difficult, even though she hadn’t kept a journal during her husband’s illness. She remembered most of the important dates, and the rest she figured out from team scorebooks or medical records.

Ellis said she hopes the book will inspire others going through similar situations, letting them know they can pull through without giving up hope. “He missed one game the whole time he was suffering with colon cancer,” she said. “Sometimes you can’t give up.”

For more information on the book signing, call 657-6347 or 539-2548.