An Unexpected Diagnosis - Kay Ellen's Story

Aug 22, 2018

When Kay Ellen Gray, 42, joined her boyfriend on a trip in early June to WrestleMania, she likely did not think she would be the one leaving with excruciating back pain.

Kay Ellen had battled with back pain since March of this year and had been visiting urgent cares for it. However, this time the pain came with very vivid hallucinations.

“I remember that due to my hallucinations and the things I was seeing, I was scared to get in the ambulance because I thought someone was coming to get me,” she said.

On June 17, Kay Ellen’s boyfriend, Bryan, knew she needed to go the hospital. They later found out her heart was filling with fluid. After treatment at the nearby Freestanding Emergency Department, a life-changing diagnosis landed her in the care of doctors at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center.

Kay Ellen Gray
Kay Ellen Gray smiles in her room on the inpatient rehab floor.

“I would have never thought it was cancer,” she said. “The cancer in my breast had spread.”

Kay Ellen learned she had some spots in her brain and she has since undergone two rounds of radiation for her back and hip because that is where most of the cancer lies. The swelling in her brain also causes swelling in her eye, which is the only noticeable trace of Kay Ellen’s current illness.

“I do all the routine exams and things you are supposed to do, but for whatever reason, they found cancer in my breasts and it has metastasized,” she said.

In just days, her life had fully changed and there was a long journey ahead. Due to Kay Ellen’s condition, she was in the intensive care unit for about a month this summer then she transferred to inpatient rehab. She said her nursing staff was supportive as she began to recover.

“Everyone has been fantastic,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for better care here, honestly.”

After her time in ICU, doctors decided Kay Ellen would need to spend time on the inpatient rehab floor to learn how to regain strength of her limbs. Kay Ellen was immobile during her two weeks in ICU and would need to strengthen her muscles as she began her journey home.

“I think you don’t realize how much you take for granted until you don’t have it,” she said about not being able to move her arms and legs.

She said she knew she would need to keep a positive attitude throughout her time in rehab.

Kay Ellen began working with her rehab team, which included Courtney Ridder, occupational therapist, Terry Polk, physical therapist, and Jim Thomas as her alternate, physical therapist.

Kay Ellen said the team helped her make significant progress by practicing walking, gaining endurance and building core strength. For work like this, the inpatient rehab team recently received an award from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities acknowledging their success with patient outcomes.

“The biggest thing is keeping a positive attitude,” she said. “I firmly believe that if I don’t do the therapy, the only one I’m cheating is myself.”

She enjoys having the same therapists throughout her time at Brookwood Baptist so they can follow and track her progress.

Kay Ellen Gray
Kay Ellen Gray smiles with a stuffed animal that she uses for comfort, but also as an arm rest when she needs it.

“They are all really fantastic! I love all of them,” she said. “Besides God, I credit a lot of my progress to them.”

Kay Ellen’s story crosses many areas of the hospital -- from ICU, to radiology and now with the rehab team, but she also credits the pastoral care team for their help along the way.

“Dorothy, the chaplain here, is so sweet she comes in to see me almost every day,” she said. “I have to give a lot of credit to God because honestly a lot of this stuff has worked out pretty miraculously and I do believe that God definitely has His hand on things here.”

For rehab patients, mobility is typically an issue, so instead of having church services in the chapel, Brookwood Baptist Chaplain Dorothy Gerr, recently has begun taking services to the rehab patients on Thursday nights.

“They have a church service on this floor in the conference room and my boyfriend and I go. I love the focus they have on God here,” she said. She is thankful for the support of her mom, Michele Gray and, her boyfriend, Bryan Cruz.

Though Kay Ellen has moved from ICU, she still gets visits from her previous nurses who continue to motivate her on her journey.

“Girls from the ICU still come up and look at me and say I can’t believe this is you,” she said. “They are so excited for me that I can walk now in a walker. It is still hard for me, but I have come that far. I’ve gone from not being able to lift my arms and legs, to being able to stand up, get myself dressed and take a shower.”

Kay Ellen said the insurance works with the hospital to evaluate her progress on a weekly basis and they will decide soon about her discharge date. After discharge, the staff will assist her with ordering equipment she will need to get around the house as she continues to heal.

Aside from her sitting in a hospital bed and some swelling in her eye, Kay Ellen’s illness is not visibly apparent. She said oftentimes, she is not reminded of her sickness physically either.

“I don’t even feel sick so it’s hard for me to sit here and not do anything,” she said. “I get stir crazy because I feel like I want to do something and I know I can’t.”

Looking ahead, Kay Ellen still has some outpatient cancer treatments with the Brookwood Baptist team. Doctors will use Cyberknife, a non-surgical treatment option, during Kay Ellen’s treatment.

She said with the relatively short time she’s been at Brookwood Baptist and how good she feels as she regains her strength is a testament to the hospital and how great the people are.

“You couldn’t have picked a better hospital for me to go to,” she added as she expressed excitement about going home. “I feel like I am winding down to the end of my journey here. I guess at some point you have to get out of the nest, right?”

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