They had known each other since the third grade at Lincoln County Elementary School, but it wasn’t until Cheryl Gracey came home on a break from school that she began to hang out with Eli Clark.
“At first it was just like really close friends,” Cheryl Clark said. “And then we started spending more and more time together and talking more. Then we started thinking about marriage.”
They got married July 21, 2008, at the courthouse with just the judge and a woman from the clerk’s office to stand in as a witness.
“She took two or three pictures and my eyes were closed,” Cheryl Clark said. “But Eli looked good, Eli and the judge. That’s the main thing we miss is not having the pictures and not having our family there.”
They plan to renew their wedding vows next month, but they face some mounting challenges.
In March 2010, Eli suffered a seizure. The hospital thought he was having a reaction to a medication. It turned out to be a brain tumor that after radiation therapy became small and fairly stable. That is, up until a year ago.
“Eli started feeling different and he knew something was wrong,” Cheryl said inside a darkened room in the Emergency Department of Georgia Regents Medical Center, as Eli lay on a bed nearby recovering from a seizure.
The tumor was growing again and eventually the couple would get a biopsy at Duke University in April confirming that it was an aggressive brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme.
Eli was started on chemotherapy and he is shuttling back and forth between Georgia Regents University Cancer Center and Duke for
treatments and scans. He has now lost the use of his right hand but has taught himself to eat with his left, even as the tumor claims more of the right side of his body.
“My leg’s giving out now,” he said. He was hospitalized a month ago for seizures, then seemed to recover with new drug therapy and even danced at his sister’s wedding last weekend.
“And Eli hates dancing,” Cheryl said.
Then early Monday morning, he woke up his wife “and all he could say was seizure,” Cheryl said. He has bounced back and forth from the hospital this week as the seizures became more frequent and his doctors
tried to get them under control with medication.
Back in Lincoln County, while Eli is being treated, friends and family are planning a ceremony for Sept. 14 so that the couple can renew their vows.
“We talk about it every year but we never do it,” Cheryl said.
“They always planned to do it at a later date,” said Michele Mongrue, who is helping to bring it together in her backyard. Eli calls her “Ma” because his mother was killed in a car accident when he was 10 and she then helped look after the family.
“I think of him like a son,” Mongrue said.
The couple’s finances have been devastated by Eli’s medical bills and they are staying with family so Mongrue is trying to find people who will donate items or services to help them out.
The date, Sept. 14, isn’t special yet.
“It’s convenient,” Cheryl said, but Eli grunted from the bed.
“It’s bow-hunting season,” he said, adding that’s the opening day.
“He and my brother are like, ‘Cheryl, you had to pick that day out of every other day,’ because Eli loves hunting,” Cheryl said, laughing.
It will be a simple ceremony and that is fine with her, “as long as we have our close family and friends,” Cheryl said. “And I do want pictures. That way we can have something to remember and maybe if we have kids, show our kids.”
“That’s my main thing,” Eli said.