But recently, there has been some cause for optimism. Delle Donne has played in each of Delaware's last four games, and played well, averaging 22.3 points and 10 rebounds. She felt especially, maybe even surprisingly good - an eight on a scale of 1 to 10, her father, Ernie, said - during a recent 30-point performance in a win at Monmouth.
"The doctors said that any kind of light at the end of the tunnel that shows up is such a bright spot that it gives everybody hope," Ernie Delle Donne said. "We're pretty confident that we're on the right track."
Delle Donne's collegiate career certainly hasn't lacked its twists and turns. In June 2008, she left powerhouse Connecticut after just 2 days, burned out from basketball and missing her connection with her older sister, Lizzie, who is deaf and blind and also has cerebral palsy and autism. Without a way to communicate from afar, Delle Donne didn't fully realize how much she would miss her sister until she traveled the 250 miles to Storrs.
"She means the world to me," Delle Donne said of Lizzie. "She's always been my example who I can look up to and realize that no matter what kind of bad day I'm having, even with the Lyme disease, her life and her struggles are far worse than what I'll ever face. So she really helps me keep life into perspective, especially Lyme disease and all that."
Now, with Delaware's campus about a 20-minute drive from her family's home, Delle Donne estimates that she sees her sister at least once a week. "Now that I'm home it's the best decision I've ever made," she said.
If Delle Donne wasn't so close to home, managing her current situation may not be as easy, either. She originally contracted Lyme disease in 2008, when she was entering Delaware as a freshman, but 30 days of Doxycycline knocked it out. After 2 symptom-free years, it came back, causing her to miss 12 games during the 2010-11 season.
But, while still on medication, she was in great shape last season, evidenced by her scoring more than four points per game (28.1) better than any other Division I women's player. She had a great offseason - she set records in the weight room, her father said - and played well in Delaware's exhibition games leading to the season.
So you can imagine the surprise of Delaware's coaching staff when Delle Donne told them the Monday night before the Hens' season opener on Friday that she was feeling ill again.
"I just knew it was coming back," said Delle Donne, who listed exhaustion, muscle aches, migraines and stomach aches as some of her symptoms. "There's really nothing you can do about it. I've been getting treatment for 2 years now, and it's something I just have to work through."
Coaches and sports teams often throw around the phrase "day-to-day" in relation to injuries, but for Delle Donne, that truly was her status to start the season. One day she would feel good, the next not so much.
She felt well enough to return for Delaware's fourth game of the season on Nov. 20, a home win over Providence, and scored a game-high 22 points. But the 27 minutes she played in that game wiped her out for quite a while.
It wasn't until a month later that she took the court again, in that highly anticipated home game against No. 9 Maryland. Not yet at 100 percent, she struggled a bit, making just seven of 23 shots for 19 points, in a 69-53 loss. But nevertheless, she was back on the court.
"The bottom line is Elena's come through a lot of adversity in her life," Martin said. "She really has. She's [gotten] through those different struggles at different times in her life because she's a competitor.
"She wants to compete. She wants to finish her senior year, as anyone would at this point. Knowing that the doctors have said go ahead, play, manage it, play through it, I think Elena's going to give it her best shot. You've got to respect that certainly, that she's willing to put forth that effort."
"The main thing right now," Ernie Delle Donne said, "is to get her to 100 percent by March."