Chris Ellis, 7, whose cancer fight drew people together, dies
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By the time he turned 7, Chris Ellis already had spent a third of his life fighting cancer.
At times, it hurt for him to stand or brush his teeth.
His parents, Ted and Dani Ellis, had to comfort Chris’ 8-year-old sister, Maria, who cried, “I don’t want to be an only child.”
Since being diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2014, when he was only 4 years old, Chris spent much of his time at the University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital, his days taken up by surgery, chemotherapy, needles, pumps, alarms and painkillers. He underwent operations to remove his gallbladder and adrenal gland. He had a craniotomy to try to eliminate a tumor behind an eye.
“Chris never caught a break,” his mother said. “It was one thing after another.”
Chris died at home in La Grange Park on Wednesday, less than a month after his seventh birthday.
He never even got to go to kindergarten.
“He wanted to, but he never got to go to school,” said Dani Ellis, a teacher. “He was very smart. He loved learning, and he loved making friends.”
At one point, he developed complications after a stem-cell transplant. Because his immune system had to be suppressed, his mother wouldn’t have been allowed to return to Chris’ room if she left. So she stayed 70 straight days.
Meanwhile, Ted Ellis, an engineer, cared for Maria. When Dani Ellis finally returned home, she had to ask her husband, “What do you put in her lunch? What is her morning routine?”
Maria always fiercely defended her little brother. After he lost his hair to chemotherapy when she was about 6, she was ready to pounce if someone stared. “She wanted to fight and yell,” their mother said.
Chris’s mother kept a journal of his illness on a Facebook page, finding moments of grace during the bleakness.
“Chris’ sickness restored my faith in humanity,” she said.
Her son’s struggle drew the attention of many, including former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and Zack Scott, a YouTuber and gamer Chris idolized. They came and played with him.
Guillen “got on the floor and played Legos with Chris, cars with Chris,” Dani Ellis said.
Through social media, she contacted Scott, who came with his wife from Oklahoma.
“He sat with Chris in the basement” playing video games, Dani Ellis said. “He stayed at our house for hours.”
Charles Martinet, the voice of the popular video-game character Mario, phoned at the hospital. “ ‘Hi, Mario,’ ” Chris told him.
“It was like a phone call from Santa Claus,” said Dani Ellis.
White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams and his wife, WMAQ-TV broadcaster Zoraida Sambolin, hosted Chris and his family in a skybox.
Guillen, now managing a team in Venezuela, said: “It’s rare you come across a little boy who can make an impact on so many lives with just his presence. During my short time with Chris, it was clear his strength and attitude was actually motivating those around him.”
Chris’s neighbors decorated their block with ribbons of gold — the color of the fight against pediatric nerve cancer. Kids raised money with lemonade stands. Friends organized benefits. Firefighters delivered gifts. A real estate broker decorated Chris’ room with Angry Birds and Super Mario Bros. motifs.
“We live on the best block on the best street in the best community,” his mother said.
On Oct. 30, she wrote on Facebook: “He said ‘I love you so much. You’re the best mom in the world.’ and reached his arms out and hugged me with all the strength he could muster and we cried together. He gave Maria a hug and told her he loved her and then he said, ‘I’m staying. I’ll never leave you.’ ”
Nov. 2: “The other night I asked Chris if he wanted to sit with me on the sofa and he shook his head yes so Ted put him on me and he laid on me for a wonderful portion of the afternoon and slept. It was everything I needed.”
After Chris died, Dani Ellis wrote:
“People continue to tell me that Chris is lucky to have me for his mommy but that’s not so. See, I am the one who is blessed to be his mommy.
“I will never stop sharing Chris stories. For a very long time I will cry at first when I think of him and as time passes it will become easier to wipe them away . . . . One day down the road I won’t start with tears but instead just smile and laugh at the slightest memory of my little boy.”
Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday and 9 to 9:30 a.m. Monday at Hitzeman Funeral Home in Brookfield. A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Louise de Marillac Church in La Grange Park, with burial at Bronswood Cemetery in Oak Brook.