Like so many others, my lung cancer diagnosis came as a huge shock for me and my family. In December of 2016, I was a healthy, active flight attendant who loved to travel. I had recently won third place in the Masters National Bodybuilding Championships in the over 45 bikini category, and I was excited to rev up my training after the holidays. Then, in March, an incident on a flight to New York changed my life. A passenger’s suitcase hit me on the head when he was trying to retrieve it from the overhead compartment. It knocked me out, and I was taken to the E.R. to determine whether I might have a concussion. They did bloodwork and X-rays and a scan. I was cleared for a concussion, but they found a 2.2 centimeter nodule in my lung.
Sung Poblete, president and CEO of Stand Up To Cancer (left) and Mary Ann Laverty (right)
When I got home to Phoenix, I went to my primary care doctor, who ordered a CT scan. Imaging said they wanted me to have a biopsy, so my doctor told me to see a cardiologist and a pulmonologist. At that point, I just wanted to know what was going on so that I could get it taken care of and get back to work and training. I went to see a pulmonologist, who suspected that it might be valley fever. He told me to come back in two days after they’d run some tests. On my way to my follow up appointment, I got caught in rush hour traffic. The pulmonologist’s office called to make sure I was still coming and didn’t reschedule my appointment, even though I was going to be 30 minutes late. That’s when I finally got nervous.
The pulmonologist was very direct when he told me that I had cancer. Even though he was blunt with his delivery, I am very grateful that he called his friend, a fellow doctor, and made an appointment for me the next day. I cried in the parking lot for two hours. It broke my heart when I had to share the news with my three sons and my boyfriend, who was about to board a plane.
Lung cancer put everything else on hold. In the months following my diagnosis, I wanted to hide and I didn’t want to talk about it. I was initially diagnosed with Stage I NSCLC. In May of 2017, I had surgery to remove my upper left lobe. Then I had a biopsy, which revealed that my cancer had metastasized to my lymph nodes, and my diagnosis was bumped up to Stage 3a. I started undergoing chemotherapy and radiation and finally started feeling worn down. I’d feel OK in the morning, then I’d crash later in the day. I realized that being strong and healthy helped me have a faster recovery. I was finally able to go back to work this past February.
I didn’t want my lung cancer to define me. When I first heard about HOPE Summit, I had reservations, but I’m so glad that I went. Being at HOPE Summit made me realize that I’m part of something greater. It felt a bit overwhelming at first, but almost immediately, a sweet group of women took me under their wing and told me, “You’re with us.” I met so many wonderful people who have become good friends. It was so empowering to meet the medical experts and learn about their research and all of the advancements. On the last day, for the first time, I stood up in a room full of strangers and shared my lung cancer story.
I finally feel like I’m getting back to a routine. I’m training as a bodybuilder again and looking forward to my son’s wedding in November. When I’m faced with difficulties with my job or in my daily life, I think, “You know what, you fought cancer, you can handle this.” I used to think I was strong, but now I know that I am strong. And I know that I am not alone. HOPE Summit was an introduction to this empowering community. That experience helped me feel like I’m going to be ok. Now I have the resources and the people I can go to for support.
After a lung cancer diagnosis, you realize how life is intertwined and how we really need each other. And we need to encourage others to raise awareness and seek support and find that sense of community and purpose too.
Anyone can get lung cancer. No one deserves lung cancer. And there is hope.
- Coming Out of My Shell by Carla Monica C. Britanico
- The Rocky Road to Hope by Denise Marshall
- Celebrate Mother's Day to its Fullest by Amanda Nerstad
Mary Ann Laverty is a lung cancer survivor from Phoenix, AZ. She attended the Stand Up To Cancer telecast in September 2018. You can read more about her experience at the telecast in LUNGevity's Fresh Air Newsletter in November 2018.