Survivor Stories

Maryann Volpe

During a relaxing getaway at the Jersey Shore with her family in Avalon, Maryann Volpe was enjoying the final days of summer, when suddenly she started coughing up blood. Maryann immediately knew something was wrong and rushed to the local hospital where she went through various CAT scans and X-Ray tests. Before long, Maryann’s summer came to a frightening end as a 5 centimeter tumor was found in her upper right lung.

Maryann was scheduled for surgery but was sent home because her worst fears had been confirmed: she had lung cancer and it was inoperable. She was diagnosed with Stage III B Lung Cancer in which the tumor had spread to distant lymph nodes in her other lung. She was immediately referred to the Abramson Cancer Center’s radiation oncologist Ramesh Rengan, MD, an expert in this kind of cancer.

“I didn’t have a lot of hope until I met Dr. Rengan,” says Maryann. “He’s my hero. I knew I was in good hands, that I was where I needed to be and that I would survive this”, recalls Maryann. “I never experienced cancer. I was clueless when I was first diagnosed but after that, I wanted to know everything about my disease and Dr. Rengan and his team took the time to teach me everything that I needed to know.”

Soon after, Maryann began her chemotherapy treatments. Dr. Rengan took the time to teach Maryann about the various treatment options available, along with her chemotherapy and presented Maryann with a special study in clinical trial at the time, strongly supported by the Abramson Cancer Center. This study was called Nelfinavir Radiation Therapy. In treating patients with inoperable Stage III Lung Cancer, Nelfinavir effectively makes all cancer cells very sensitive to radiation therapy, which in turn makes the radiation significantly more powerful and successful. With the help of Dr. Rengan, Maryann eventually decided to undergo Nelfinavir Radiation therapy.

During the first scan, Maryann recalls how nervous she was. “I held my breath,” she says. But, shortly after these treatments, her 5 centimeter tumor reduced to less than a ½ centimeter in size! She recalls gleefully “I’m a very lucky, lucky, girl, and I attribute so much of it to The Abramson Cancer Center!”

Thanks to extensive care provided by Dr. Rengan, his team, and the wonderful support of her husband, her 5 grandchildren, and other family and friends, Maryann has reached her two year mark and she is “feeling much better now!” Her most recent visit was this past December and she is still on track, just as her doctor had assured her from the beginning. “I feel back to normal. I’m still so emotional about how wonderful people were to me”. Not just her wonderful friends and her dedicated family, but everyone involved with her healing at Penn Medicine, especially her “hero,” Dr. Rengan.

After seeing significant success with her treatments, Maryann decided she would do everything in her power to achieve her goal of going to California for a Wine & Bike Tour. Maryann successfully met that goal! She and her husband biked for six days and five nights throughout the beautiful wine country in San Francisco, even enduring a 50 mile bike ride in one day. Maryann is quick to point out she wouldn’t have been able to do this without the help of Dr. Rengan and the Abramson Cancer Center.

Maryann Volpe and her story are featured in the new Be a Survivor book series by Vladimir Lange, MD, which focuses on lung cancer treatments. See more information on Maryann and Be a Survivor: Lung Cancer Treatment Guide.


"There is a plan and meaning for everyone. If you get through cancer it really does change you. It makes you a better person: you live more in the moment, you become more compassionate, and you deeply understand what other people are going through when coping with the same terror of cancer. If I had to talk to someone who has to go through what I went through I would say, stay positive and live in the moment with gratitude. One sure way to take focus off yourself is to help and serve others. My spiritually and prayer was so important during my cancer journey. As Mother Teresa said 'th efruit of prayer is love and the fruit of love is service.' My experience at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center was magnificent! Doctors provide compassionate care, coupled with cutting edge technology!"

- Maryann Volpe


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