Kelly & Ellen: Sisters By Choice

Kelly Modena and Ellen Hollis

Sometimes in life, you get two families: the one you were born into and the one you choose. For Kelly Modena and Ellen Hollis, they got lucky with each other. The two are sisters, just not by blood. Kelly and Ellen met each other over 30 years ago at their middle school in Nashville and have been best friends ever since. The pair make up part of a “pretty good tribe” of about 15 women. All fifteen have been friends since middle school. 

“You look at us on paper and we’re all so different but there’s this common thread of love and respect that ties us together. Maybe that’s not unique but it’s certainly special,” explained Kelly.

The group of women get together often to celebrate and do life together, through the good and the bad. These days, the support is focused towards Kelly. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2022 and is undergoing chemo. A double-mastectomy is also in her near future. 

“This is not just my journey. I have two daughters, a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old, and this is their journey. It makes me want to cry, but they’ve felt the lump and they know that I’m going to lose hair.”

“I get angry. But my love and positivity definitely outweigh my anger. In this journey there is very little that I can control except for my attitude.

Also, not making cancer taboo… I think there’s a lot of people who don’t want to talk about it, but this is not just my journey. 

I mean, I have two daughters, a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old, and this is their journey. It makes me want to cry, but they’ve felt the lump and they know that I’m going to lose hair. I’ve completely prepared them, and I just think that’s really important.”

Cancer is part of Kelly and Ellen’s story and hits very close to home. Ellen’s mom battled throat and breast cancer from 2016 to 2019. Her brother-in-law recently battled both lung and heart cancer. Kelly’s sister was just 35 when she passed away after a two-year battle with the disease, an experience that Kelly and Ellen describe as “soul crushing.” Now, with Kelly facing her own cancer journey, Ellen has started a CaringWays fundraiser to ensure her best friend gets all the support she might need. 

“I kind of hate the saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ because no, Kelly does not deserve one more thing to prove that she’s stronger!”

“I just hate for anyone I love to go through this, and I feel like the people who least deserve to get cancer get it. I kind of hate the saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ because no, Kelly does not deserve one more thing to prove that she’s stronger!”

Shortly after Kelly’s diagnosis, Ellen started a CaringWays campaign with a goal of $10,000. The page has far surpassed the initial goal, and donations continue pouring in. Ellen says the campaign’s success is a testament to how loved Kelly is by so many people.

“It’s the stuff you don’t think about that you may need down the road: someone to help keep your house clean, or the groceries, or the medical bills that aren’t covered because there’s so much that’s not covered.”

Kelly Modena and her daughters with CareChampion Ellen Hollis

“She is the most loving, caring, giving, extraordinary woman I know. She is the first person to help others, and everyone who knows her loves her. People really want to help, and CaringWays makes it easy to do so.

It’s the stuff you don’t think about that you may need down the road: someone to help keep your house clean, or the groceries, or the medical bills that aren’t covered because there’s so much that’s not covered, or getting a wig. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do it yourself, but it’s just there as a support if it’s needed.”

Ellen went on to explain that while Kelly is the first to offer help to someone else, she has a hard time accepting it herself, which is part of the reason why CaringWays is such a good fit. 

“Transparency is a big thing in my life, I think it’s important. So something I love about CaringWays is there’s no room for somebody to think that there could be a misuse of this funding. It’s truly for this journey. That makes me feel better because it’s always been really really hard for me to accept help. It’s restricted spending and I really really like that, and it’s easier to accept it,” said Kelly. 

Kelly Modena and Ellen Hollis smiling

It’s impossible to say what the future holds for any of us, but there’s a comfort that lies in a friendship like Kelly and Ellen’s. Sometimes the only response to uncertainty is hope and these women are in no short supply of it.

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