First, her friend Mona was diagnosed.
Then, she heard of a best friend from college.
Finally, it was a fellow artist from Colorado.
Like most women do, Mary Crawley was prioritizing the health of her loved ones over her own – even though she knew something was wrong.
“My mother, she is like half of me,” she explained of her endless devotion to care for her ailing mother for more than half a decade.
Splitting her time between Marathon and Virginia, this incredibly talented clay sculptor said she always just knew, deep in the back of her mind, that she would be inflicted with breast cancer.
Though she could feel the lumps in her breast, caring for her mother who’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer was at the forefront of her mind. Everything else took a back seat.
On June 3, 2008, Crawley got word from her doctor that what was originally predicted to be stage III breast cancer had advanced to stage IV.
“I could feel the lumps in my breast, and it was about a year before I finally went to the doctor,” she confessed.
Until just a few years ago, tumors that far advanced carried a pretty low rate of survival. Fear gripped her as she caught wind of a friend of a friend who’d been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer and died less than six months later.
She endured the gamut of tests from CT scan to MRI, PET scan, bone scan and blood tests that revealed her stage IV breast cancer had metastasized to her spine, torso, and hip area.
What followed was five months of crippling chemotherapy, or what Crawley referred to as “the really mean stuff.”
“I couldn’t walk, take a shower or do anything by myself,” she remembered.
Close friend H.B. Saussy’s snuggly Peek-a-poo Simba was not only a comfort on the cozy couch in her home between treatments, but Simba was also the only thing that motivated Crawley to get up and get out of the house for short, daily walks to the end of their street.
She’s worked her way back from a heart-breaking 88 pounds – when a child-sized cuff was needed to check her blood pressure – to a much healthier 115 pounds for her petite frame.
Chemotherapy twice took the locks from the top of her head, but with a determined spirit, Crawley took it in stride.
“I remember running into her after having not seen her for a while, and when it started to grow back in, she had her hair styled into a mohawk!” exclaimed friend Stacie Kidwell. “She walked right up to me and asked, ‘So, what do you think of my new do?’”
Her tumors are now classified as cysts since they’re no longer growing and inflicting other parts of her body, like the lesions doctors discovered on her brain when she lost her hair during chemotherapy.
Crawley’s current treatment includes trips to Mariner’s Hospital every three weeks for infusions of Herceptin, a drug designed to attack the type of breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
“The staff at Mariner’s call me the poster child for recovery,” she beamed proudly.
For the better part of her adult life, Crawley lived in China where she supervised the production of shoes. Her locale, however, gave her the opportunity to study classical Chinese art and painting. Those studies emerged to her general outlook on life as well as her attitude toward death.
“I have a very eastern attitude towards death,” she explained. “If you’re worried you’re going to die, then you probably are! Attitude changes everything, and everything happens for a reason.”
She also dove head first into research about nutraceuticals, foods that provide health and medical benefits like prevention and treatment of disease.
“I believe in supplementing my traditional Western medicine treatments like chemotherapy with dietary changes,” she elaborated.
On the breakfast menu every morning are turmeric, garlic, olive oil and ground pepper over soft-boiled eggs.
Now at her side, providing comfort as she continues on her road to recovery is Haley, a Corgi/Jack Russell. Though she’s only been a part of Crawley’s household for three weeks, it looks as though she’s been at her side her entire canine life.