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Film Explores How U Of U Coach Helped Former Partner Live Fully With Terminal Breast Cancer

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A former college athletics coach said she “cherished” her time as a caregiver for her former partner, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, and said it was the battle of her life.

Elaine Elliott is used to success — after all, she’s the winningest women’s basketball coach in University of Utah history. With 15 NCAA Tournament appearances and 15 conference championships, she won more games than any other school in the Mountain West Conference.

But when her former partner Lisa Church saw a doctor for shoulder pain, Elliott wasn’t prepared for what came next.

“Just immediately sent her to a cancer specialist,” said Elliott, who lives in Salt Lake City. “She was stunned.”

Elliott became Church’s caregiver as the diagnosis turned from bad to worse.

“These women fight even though they know they can’t win,” Elliott said.

Church had metastatic breast cancer, meaning it had spread. “You have years, which isn’t something you want to hear,” she said. “What you want to hear is that you have decades.”

With Elliott’s encouragement, Lisa joined a support group at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Lisa Gauchay, who’s a licensed clinical social worker with the Huntsman Cancer Institute, led the group.

“If you know you’re going to die of this cancer it can be really hard to learn how to live with the time you have,” Gauchay said.

That’s the focus of a new film, However Long, which followed four women through their metastatic breast cancer.

Local filmmaker Jenny Mackenzie explored how Church, with Elliott’s help, learned to live fully with the time she had left.

“When you are in this group that has this amazing sisterhood and deep dive levels of truths that are shared it gives you this chance to be I think somewhat free,” said Mackenzie, of Salt Lake City.

Though usually emotionally guarded, Elaine said through the friendships she made in the group, Church learned to open up about her fears.

“This became a safe zone for her to share and feel her emotions,” Elliott said. Church found that she wasn’t alone in her struggle, and the sisterhood gave her strength. “The time she was able to spend in that environment with women sharing the same story was the most important emotional piece of her journey.”

Though deeply painful, Elliott cherished the time she cared for Church. “It was my honor,” she said.

It was a role Elliott never imagined she’d play.

“It does change you in some fundamental ways in terms of how you see your own journey,” she said. “The joy that you should take in each day that you have.”

It’s that joy she strives for, both on and off the court, in Church’s memory.

There’s a free screening of “However Long” at the Park City Film Series on Nov. 7. For more information, visit here. You can also stream the film through Vimeo.

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