Mary Ann Hodnett is a testimony to perseverance, dedication and having a passion for appreciating life. The year 2010 was a rough one for her family. Her husband lost his job in September 2009, and her father passed away in May of 2010. A few months later, her work partnership dissolved, and her COBRA insurance was slated to end in December. Then, the biggest hurdle hit. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in November.
While times were tough, Mary Ann knew there had to be some relief coming her way. She also knew that she had to stay strong for her husband and their son—a high schooler who was an avid soccer player and guitar aficionado. That’s when her community stepped up to lend a helping hand. They prayed with the Hodnetts and filled their car with groceries. They did what they could to help Mary Ann and her family stay afloat.
It was still time for some good news. She was told that her cancer was very small and had been caught early. Thus, while she did need a mastectomy, she would not have to endure chemotherapy or radiation.
The day before surgery, Wanda Lowe, the cancer care navigator at WellStar West Georgia Medical Center, arrived with a basket of helpful goods—something that is given to every cancer patient before surgery at the Enoch Callaway Cancer Center at WellStar West Georgia Medical Center. They struck up a conversation, and Mary Ann learned about cancer navigators and what to expect with her clinical care. They remained in touch after the surgery, and Mary Ann found Wanda to be a source of knowledge and hope.
These experiences taught Mary Ann to value most the people in our lives. She realized that the events that meant the most to her were all of the interactions she had with her family, friends and neighbors. From the day her son had her listen to a song he had written just for her, to her husband’s wit and sense of humor, to the friends and community members who had literally put food on their table and held their hands. These were what mattered most, not the objects in her life. After all of the support she had received, she knew she wanted to give back.
Speaking with Wanda, Mary Ann began volunteering at the cancer center where she had been treated and worked with those undergoing and surviving cancer. After two years of finding this volunteer work very rewarding, she realized she wanted to go back to work—at the Enoch Callaway Cancer Center.
While volunteering at a table during “Relay for Life,” Mary Ann began speaking with a female staff member and quizzing her on how to find a job with the Cancer Center. Listening to Mary Ann’s story, the woman asked her to send her a resume. Soon after that, Mary Ann found herself in Human Resources applying for a position and accepting a job offer.
In addition to her administrative duties, she was still passionate about helping survivors. Thus, she began coordinating the Survivorship Program. The program had begun with an art therapy class—which the community supported by donating art supplies. Soon thereafter, a local yoga teacher arrived and suggested beginning a “Curvy Yoga” class. Curvy Yoga is a course offering a gentle introduction of yoga techniques relating to relaxation, stretching and breathing.
Following the popularity of these classes, a survey was given to the attending survivors to discover their other unmet needs. “Live, Laugh, Learn—A Nutrition Experience” evolved from the results of that survey. It provides a healthy, free lunch and is led by Registered Dietitians who educate cancer patients and survivors through instruction, such as cooking demonstrations (recipes provided); individual consultations that include assessing the nutritional needs of the survivors; and assistance and instruction on gardening (including building and caring for a raised garden bed). Currently, all three courses are going strong, and Mary Ann brainstorms on how to help the program grow even further.
Her passion for this work is evident to all who speak to her. She says, “I want people to know that there is life after cancer. You are not alone.” The survivor support community she is helping create certainly gets that message across to the cancer survivors in LaGrange and its surrounding area.