After stopping in to see daughter Camaren Sloan, who manages the market, Elliott was heading to his car when a former neighbor thought he looked a little too unsteady for a man who had just left a place that served alcohol.
So, yet again, Elliott found himself in the same awkward conversation.
As he explained, no, no alcohol had passed his lips that day.
And, as for the unsteadiness?
It is a permanent result of the brain tumor that was removed from the base of his skull 33 years ago at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
In short it was the kind of the conversation one might see in one of the “Wanna get away?” promotions by Southwest Airlines.
The Elliott family does concede that Todd has a drinking problem of sorts — the need to drink water throughout the day because his salivary glands were “fried,” as his father puts it, during seven weeks of daily radiation treatments that followed his surgery.
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Those treatments gave way to a year of chemotherapy (three weeks on, three weeks off) that helped to get rid of the cancer. (Based on the number of times they ate at Skyline Chili while in Cincinnati, Todd and father Tim Elliott I agree that Skyline cured what the cancer treatments didn’t.)
All this followed the surgery Dr. Kerry Crone performed that kept the Elliott family at the hospital for 12 hours, during which they assembled hourly to hold hands and pray.
Nineteen at that time, Todd Elliott was treated at a children’s hospital because the medulloblastoma near the floor of the skull at the back of his brain is most often diagnosed in 7 to 10-year-olds.
He was at Cincinnati Children’s specifically because, from the moment a September 1986 CAT Scan revealed that Todd’s imbalance was the cause of a brain tumor and not an inner ear problem, father Tim Elliott I had done his homework.
Children’s and the Ohio State University Medical Center both had strong reputations for treating the condition, and Tim I took to liking Dr. Crone in a face-to-face meeting.
If the close attention to detail was clear evidence of a father’s caring, it also was part of a time when Tim Elliott I and wife Bonnie were on opposite ends of the composure scale.
“She was Miss Rock,” he said. “I was Mr. Basket Case.”
But he had reason for his dis-ease.
Not only was his son’s life on the line, but when the diagnosis arrived, Todd’s daughter Camaren was three months shy of being born.
When Dr. Crone emerged from surgery, he told the family he had not been able to get all of the cancer because some of it was too near a part of the nervous system necessary for breathing. Hence the recommendation for radiation and chemotherapy.
Although his father said Todd had “a hard time accepting” that he had been diagnosed with cancer, Todd’s recollection is not of being overcome with emotion or fear before the surgery.
“I just remember watching the Browns and Bengals game.”
He had one complaint about the radiation treatment both sides of the skull and up and down the spinal column, where medulloblastoma cells often spread.
“You’d have to hold your breath because it smelled so bad.”
As for the chemotherapy?
It caused a pain in the jaw and a little numbness, he said, “but all I was doing was getting a shot.”
He compared that to the younger children in the area where he went for his shot – children who had chest catheters that delivered their chemotherapies and buckets beside them in which they regularly vomited.
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And the post treatment tests?
“The spinal tap was nothing,” he said, but the bone marrow tests – which involved boring into the bone with a tool he compares to a corkscrew – were another matter.
Todd’s son, Tim Elliott III, gives his father high marks for fortitude.
“I complain every day about sinus issues,” Tim III said. “He rolls with the punches … and seems to be more content than I am.”
Born 10 years after his father’s surgery, Tim III was considered “the miracle child” because all thought the radiation treatments had rendered his father sterile.
“If only that were true,” his grandfather said in a friendly sideswipe at grandson that put smiles on everyone’s face.
Ten years before Tim III’s arrival, however, a more sobering issue faced the Elliotts.
What would Todd do for the remainder of his life?
Permanent disability was an option, one that the patient declined in a brief sentence his father said qualifies as “probably the most impressive thing I ever heard.”
Although offered a job back at Stevenson’s Heating and Air Conditioning, where Todd was working when he fell ill, imbalance and problems with a weak ruled that out.
As Todd puts it, his father “took me in” at Elliott Insurance, the family business.
There were challenges.
A slight speech problem ruled out answering the phone, so the only role that seemed practical was for Todd to become the office go-fer – that is, until Todd’s uncle Bob French had a suggestion.
“Todd can sell” insurance, he said. “Get him a license, and he can sell.”
“I didn’t think that was an option,” Tim I said.
But Todd studied for the insurance exam, passed it and, according to his father, now has “more loyal customers than any of the other agents in the office.”
“So far,” said Tim III, who sensed his time to jump in with both feet.
While appreciative customers have treated Todd to pies, cookies and lunches, his father mock complains “I never even got a biscuit.”
What’s more, Tim I says, “He has customers that refer (other customers to him) all the time.”
Some of that is likely because they have seen in Todd the kind of persistence his family has long been aware of and that his son, a strength coach at Emmanuel Christian Academy, has seen in the workouts his father has done in recent years.
Said Tim III, “He doesn’t see limits.”
The slight affect on his speech sometimes causes Todd not to initiate conversations and, at other times, causes his intended humor to be misunderstood.
Tim III’s girlfriend not long ago wasn’t sure Todd was joking when she waltzed into the Elliott house and he said, “I didn’t hear a knock on the door.”
Tim Elliott III says his father’s “love language” is different, as well. Rather than being delivered in words it comes through actions like a blanket or hot chocolate offered that comes his way in the cold of winter.
Says Tim III, “He’s the dad that everyone should have.”
Years now have passed since the oncologists at Children’s have said Todd Elliott is “as cured as we can say he’s cured.”
And because there is no evidence the medulloblastoma was or will be passed from generation to generation, Todd Elliott’s life is complicated by the single genetic anomaly the Elliotts possess for which medical science has yet to find an explanation:
A persistent and irrational affinity for the Cleveland Browns.