Maryann Ackman

The news of breast cancer came the day before 22 family members were to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner. It was Nov. 26, 2019, and for 64-year-old Maryann Ackman of Davidsville, “the phone call from the radiologist confirmed what I suspected.”

Early in October, her annual gynecological visit and mammogram showed questionable tissue which led to an ultrasound revealing an abnormal mass about two inches in size, deep in her left breast. On Nov. 21, Maryann had a biopsy.

Unfortunately for Maryann, it was not the first time cancer visited their home at Thanksgiving.

In 1983, Maryann’s mother was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 65.

“Back then, the doctor did not share results with the patient, Maryann recalls. Instead, the doctor told the family. So, he said, 'Celebrate Thanksgiving, because she probably won’t be here for Christmas,' ”

The family decided not to tell Maryann’s mother and, on Thanksgiving Day, everyone celebrated the holiday as though everything was fine. But the next day, Maryann decided to tell her mother the truth. While in the kitchen, Maryann’s mother asked her, “Is there something I should know?”

Maryann told her what the doctor said, and explained, “We wanted to keep your spirits up. That’s the reason we did not tell you.”

Maryann’s mother understood, but when the family gathered again, the children were dismissed from the table, and her mother let the cat out the bag. In regards to dying, her mother said, “Absolutely, not, I am going to be here for a long time.”

She lived another five years and died at 70 … only weeks before her 50th wedding anniversary.

Unlike the Thanksgiving with her mother, Maryann let her family know about the confirmed breast cancer.

After the holidays, Maryann says she had a lot to process. She prepared for the worst, but then decided, “This is an illness, not a death sentence.”

She went forward with a positive attitude, said her prayers and trusted God to take care of her and provide support.  

With a history of cancer in Maryann's family, the surgical oncologist suggested a genetic blood test. The test showed no genetic mutations, which meant her cancer was not caused by a family trait.

Maryann’s treatment plan involved chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy and anti-nausea medicine. During chemotherapy treatment, she had two weeks of being tired, no appetite, nausea, bowel problems and body aches similar to the flu. But by the third week, everything lightened up and seemed like normal – except the taste of food. Because of the chemotherapy, Maryann had a metal taste in her mouth. Then someone offered her a big tip, “Silverware makes the metal taste worse, use plasticware.”

But, there was no solving Maryann’s weakened immune system caused by chemotherapy. “It bothered me that I could not participate in public functions,” she says.

Maryann was unable to work, to volunteer, or sing with the Johnstown Symphony Chorus, something she had done for 14 years prior to her diagnosis.

People who call Maryann's house, hear her singing a delightful tune before the beep sounds. “I take songs and revise them. I have six to eight revised songs I use throughout the year,” she says of her unique phone messages, which illustrate her love for singing.

She says that during cancer, what made her heart sing was her supportive family and friends. As her body was beaten down by chemo, everyone took notice. “I received hats and blankets, some homemade,” she says. “Even in the summer months they are useful. What a sign of love.”

Going through chemo taught her a deeper appreciation for Bill, the husband she calls “an angel-in-the flesh.

 “He is a very good caregiver, whether it was to get something for me or stop me from doing something,” she says.

One of the most surprising lessons she has learned is that “healing touch works.”

Healing touch is a form of prayer that involves placing a hand over the area of the body that needs healed. Because of COVID-19, a church member envisioned the cancerous mass while praying.

“The day before my lumpectomy surgery, my friend told me the last time she prayed, she could not see the mass anymore … it was gone,” Maryann says.

On May 12, Maryann was declared cancer free. She will continue immunotherapy through December.

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