Maryann was undergoing her annual gynecological exam in November of 2001 when a routine fecal test showed blood in her stool. The gynecologist directed Maryann to her primary care physician, who was concerned enough to refer her to a gastroenterologist. A colonoscopy and an endoscopy revealed a cancerous tumor sitting on the opening of her rectum.
"My doctor actually had tears in his eyes when he told me," recalls Maryann. At first, she took the news calmly. "It didn’t hit me until I got into my car in the parking lot. I sat in the car for 45 minutes and cried my heart out."
Maryann had already lost both of her parents — her mother when she was in her 40s, and her father when he was in his 50s. And she had lost her older sister. Now, she would have to go home and share her diagnosis with younger sister, Eileen, who had survived her own battle with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1983. "I thought — my family just doesn’t need any more bad news," she says.
It was President’s Day in 2002 when Dr. Kenneth J. Boyd, a colon/rectal surgeon at Riddle Hospital, removed the tumor. Subsequent tests showed that Maryann’s colon cancer was in stage 3B. She was visited by the husband and wife team of Dr. Andrew J. Solan, a specialist in hematology/oncology, and Dr. Merrill J. Solan, a specialist in radiation/oncology, to discuss her treatment plan. Between March and August, Maryann received chemotherapy five days a week, every three weeks, under the direction of Dr. Andrew Solan. In May, Dr. Merrill Solan added radiation to her treatment.
"Those were tough times," Maryann admits. "I live alone, and I am very independent by nature. There were times when I was helpless. There were moments of frustration, moments of joy, moments of anger — you don’t even know who you’re angry at. There is not an emotion that a cancer patient misses."
"My sister has been to the devil and back," says Eileen, who works as a technician in the patient pharmacy at Riddle. Cancer-free for 27 years now, Eileen continues to see Dr. Andrew Solan once a year for her check-up.
Says Maryann, "My family — my sister, my two brothers-in-law, my nine nieces and nephews — I can’t think of anything they didn’t do for me. I am blessed by a wonderful support team of family, friends, office colleagues and neighbors."
In addition to her family and friends, Maryann relied on her faith, and on journaling, to get her through. "I have always journaled during difficult times in my past," explains Maryann. "Writing is a cure-all for me."
She says that her attitude also played a major role during treatment. "For me, remaining positive was three quarters of the battle. Not that you don’t have bad days — because you do. But the more positive I was, the better I was."
"Maryann remained very upbeat throughout her treatment," says Dr. Andrew Solan. "I don’t know if a good attitude has a direct effect on the outcome, but it surely makes it easier to get through treatment."
"All of my doctors were so great to treat with," says Maryann. "Not knowing anything about colon rectal cancer before my diagnosis, or what the outcome would be, I had to learn how to rely upon those who did know. Dr. Andrew Solan always took the time to listen to me, and to answer my questions. I could tell he was looking out for my best interests. The trust factor was there."
"As far as I’m concerned," says Dr. Andrew Solan, "Maryann is cured." While he has officially discharged her from his care, "we still see her all the time," he says. The reason? The support Maryann received during her diagnosis and treatment inspired her to do the same for others.
When Dr. Merrill Solan approached her in 2003 about the creation of a Patient Advocacy and Advisory Committee, Maryann volunteered. Today, she serves as the committee chair. The mission of the nine-member group — all former, and sometimes current, cancer patients — is to enhance the time patients spend at Riddle Cancer Center during treatment. The committee conducts ongoing fundraisers that allow them to provide snacks, books and jigsaw puzzles to patients. They installed a television and a coffee maker. When a personal friend of Maryann’s mentioned to her — without realizing her role — how amazed he was that he received lunch during his chemotherapy session, Maryann replied enthusiastically, "That’s us!"
"Riddle has what I believe is the best cancer care in Delaware County," says Maryann. "Our committee just wants patients to know that we’re there for them — we’re there as support all the way through. Of all the volunteer work I do, this is one thing I won’t give up. It’s nice to know you have the ability to give back, and to find out that it’s appreciated."
Maryann also serves as a "buddy" at Riddle Cancer Center, providing non-medical advice, hope and support to newly diagnosed cancer patients. She’s had five buddies over the past few years. "Everyone should have a buddy," says Maryann. "When you’re diagnosed, you want to hear about it from someone who has gone through it. Most buddies just want to know how you are. I tell them, I’m great!"