For Liz Yazzolino, head secretary at Eccles Elementary School, it started with a nagging cough.
That’s something you tend to notice in a pandemic centered around a respiratory illness — but two negative tests confirmed she did not have Covid-19.
“She went to urgent care and they thought it was probably just asthma,” recalled her husband, Jerry Yazzolino. “They took some blood for testing, prescribed a couple inhalers and sent her on her way.”
It was not just asthma. Last week, Liz awoke to see she had missed a call in the middle of the night.
It was a lab tech, telling her to immediately go to the emergency room as soon as she got the message.
At Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin, doctors informed the Yazzolinos that Liz’s red blood cell count was terminally low — less than half of where it should be. Her iron count was also alarmingly low.
“It basically meant her body was not only losing blood somewhere — it also wasn’t making any new blood,” Jerry said. “They did three blood transfusions throughout that day to boost her count.”
Through a gastrointestinal endoscopy, her doctors went hunting for the suspected culprit: a slow-bleeding ulcer. Unfortunately, what they found was much worse: a cancerous tumor in her colon, the size of a baseball.
Some rare good news arrived on Friday, Nov. 20, as a CT scan was unable to locate cancer anywhere else in Liz’s body. The next day, she went under the knife to remove the tumor from her colon.
The surgery was successful and Liz is recovering well, Jerry reports.
“She is very sore, a little scared and, really, just shocked that she was so sick for so long and didn’t realize it,” he said.
Despite the successful procedure, Liz is not out of the woods yet. Her oncologist has diagnosed her with stage 2A cancer (out of four stages) and prescribed a cycle of chemotherapy that begins early next month.
“Given the grand scheme of things, we feel very, very lucky that she is where she is right now (home and healing) because that almost wasn’t the case,” Jerry said. “We have a wonderful team working to make sure she going to have a healthy, long life. For now, it’s rest and recovery until she starts chemo.”
Liz Yazzolino has a long history in Canby, particularly in the school community. She was president of the PTA at Eccles for seven years before being offered the position of head secretary. All of her children attended Eccles — as did Jerry, a native Canbyite.
“She remains the strong, amazing, beautiful person she has always been and is determined to take this on with the tenacity and passion that she puts into everything else,” Jerry said of his wife.
While her cancer diagnosis was in no way expected, Jerry admitted this week he was “very thankful” for that annoying little cough that wouldn’t go away — and ultimately saved her life.
“As someone who was born and raised in this town, I truly appreciate the special community we live in and how we always help each other when things happen,” Jerry said. “We never thought we would be on this end of things — but that’s life, sometimes. We will make it through. ”
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up for the family to help with medical bills. Any support the community can offer, including positive messages and prayers, is much appreciated.