For Mary Ann Hodnett, laughter and helping others helped her get over breast cancer

Published 2:00 pm Saturday, October 7, 2023

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After recovering from breast cancer, longtime survivor Mary Ann Hodnett transitioned from being helped by others to helping other survivors as her life’s work. 

Hodnett was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in 2010. She said doctors caught the cancer early, so she didn’t have to go through chemotherapy or radiation treatments, but she did have to have a single mastectomy.

As with many cancer survivors, the diagnosis was devastating, but Hodnett had great support from both family and friends.

“When I was told I had cancer, it’s like your whole body goes hot. You just kind of go in shock,” Hodnett said. 

“I did not have to do chemo or radiation, which I was very fortunate, but it does something to you when you have a mastectomy,” Hodnett said. “People relate cancer to being sick and losing your hair. I didn’t have either one of those, yet I had a breast removed, which does a number on you as a woman.”

“It was hard to get used to. But I had support, especially from the Breast Friends for Life support group here in town. They’re just amazing. I made some really good friends with them.”

Hodnett said her husband and sons were always supportive but, in the early days, meeting with the cancer navigator before her surgery helped her the most. She said meeting with cancer navigator Wanda Lowe helped calm her down knowing the plan for her treatment. 

Hodnett said it wasn’t until three years after diagnosis that it really began to hit her hard mentally and emotionally due to the loss of her breast.

“I waited a year before I began reconstruction … For a woman, you have to care about what you wear, how it looks, that sort of thing. It hit me about three years later, and it was just very difficult. I just had to work through it emotionally,” Hodnett said. “You just don’t feel whole and you don’t feel attractive, especially when your hormones are all messed up.”

Hodnett explained that her thoughts weren’t helped by the hormone blockers causing her body to stop producing estrogen. She said she had to be on an estrogen blocker for around eight years. She said her husband and sons were always supportive, even when she made them go back home on the way to soccer practice because she had forgotten her prosthetic. Hodnett says they laugh about it now.

“I hated wearing that thing. It was hot,” Hodnett said, joking that she would sometimes throw it on the kitchen table when she arrived back home.

In 2012, Hodnett started volunteering at the Enoch Callaway Cancer Center. A year later she started working there after finding the volunteer work very rewarding.

She said her children were out of the home, so she did some education and got a job with one of their oncologists and was later promoted to an administrative assistant to Charlene McClanahan, director of Oncology Services at West Georgia Health System.

Because of that position, Hodnett was very involved with Paint the Town Pink, helping organize and plan for the event.

Hodnett retired in 2021 to help take care of her husband, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Much of her time these days is devoted to his care, so she has stepped back a bit from helping organize Paint the Town Pink, though she is still a supporter.

Hodnett’s said it took a few years, but she feels she has moved on from cancer. Her advice to new cancer survivors is to surround yourself with positive people who are good support and encouragement and to be positive yourself.

“Take it one day at a time, and laughter is the best medicine,” she said.