What Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stronger
By Anne Granado
Most people cannot imagine hearing the dreaded “c-word.” Though we all know people diagnosed with cancer, it is even harder to imagine one of our friends or family facing it more than once. However, MaryAnn Pavey was diagnosed with a brain tumor and, years later, kidney cancer. Facing her diagnoses with grace and bravery, MaryAnn is now on the other side of both major health scares and is ready to live life to the fullest. “I don’t know the reasons for these bumps in my journey, but I do know that God loves me and has blessed me with life each time I felt like I was facing the end. Never ever lose love and hope because God loves each and everyone one of us,” MaryAnn says. “Why some live and some die, I have no idea, but I know God has a plan for each of us.”
MaryAnn’s story starts in Sulphur Springs, Texas, where she grew up. She had her daughter, Amy, in 1973, as a single mom, and she worked hard to support her daughter and herself. Even at a young age, MaryAnn was strong-willed and tenacious, determined to achieve her goals. For seven years, she worked for HD Lee, the manufacturing company that made Lee jeans, and then she started working for GTE (General Telephone Electric). In 1989, GTE moved to Texarkana, and MaryAnn moved to keep her job, but a year and a half later, they closed in Texarkana and moved to Dallas, leaving MaryAnn without a job. “I was forced to search for another career, and my daughter, Amy, was always interested in doing hair. She said that she had this dream of us owning our salon, and when I researched it, I thought, this could be something I would like,” MaryAnn says.
Intent on pursuing her new dream, MaryAnn enrolled in Kilgore College in 1995 to become an esthetician. It was the only school in the area that offered training in the field, but Kilgore College was over an hour and a half away. MaryAnn made the taxing drive every day from August to March the following year. “I would leave the house at 5a.m. Monday through Friday, go to school all day, and then get home at 7:30 or 8:00p.m. every night,” MaryAnn says. “It was extremely hard, but I was determined.”
MaryAnn graduated from Kilgore College in 1995 and took her state board exams in Austin, Texas. Then, she opened her dream salon in the building where Twisted Fork is currently located. It was called Salon Visage Esthetique. “I was told I wouldn’t find enough business in Texarkana as only the second esthetician in town, but I worked hard to build an excellent clientele. At the time, I offered skin treatments and a vichy shower for mud treatments, but Texarkana wasn’t ready for some of that,” MaryAnn says. “At one point, I employed ten hairstylists, including my daughter, Amy. We also had two massage therapists, four nail technicians, and six tanning beds. But, some of my stylists thought that ‘the grass might be greener somewhere else,’ so I decided to close the big salon and go into business on my own.”
MaryAnn rented a building and started offering tanning, facials, and waxing services. She continued doing what she loved until she was told she had a brain tumor on May 24, 2016. On this day, life for MaryAnn changed forever. “I tend to talk about my life in two parts: before and after the brain tumor. Now, I’ve added more because I have before and after kidney cancer as well,” MaryAnn says. “My husband, Kip, who has been wonderful through it all, rolls his eyes, but it’s true. Things changed forever that day.”
MaryAnn met Kip Pavey on a blind date. One of the massage therapists who worked for Amy said she had to meet Kip, who was working at International Paper. “I finally said, ‘Fine, I’ll meet him,’ and the rest is history!” MaryAnn says. “We met in 2003 and got married in 2009. We dated so long because we’d both come from bad relationships and said we would never get remarried. But, after all those years, neither one of us was going anywhere, so we decided we might as well get married!”
In 2016, MaryAnn started having some strange symptoms. She felt like she could not walk in a straight line, was running into walls, and was having “brain freeze” headaches. “I knew something was wrong. I drink wine, so I even gave up drinking wine, but that didn’t change anything,” MaryAnn says. “I went to my doctor in town, and he suggested an MRI. When we looked at the results, there was this great big white spot in my cerebellum, which is where all your motor skills come from. It was the size of a lemon, and my whole world stopped. I just knew it was a death sentence.”
MaryAnn was sent to Mark Smith, M.D., in Texarkana, and he referred her to a doctor in Little Rock named Ali F. Krisht, who planned her surgery. “I was forced into early retirement. I had to close my salon after 25 years of service,” MaryAnn says. “I loved every one of my clients, but I could not return to work.”
MaryAnn had her first surgery on June 4, 2016, and a second removal surgery on July 13, 2016. This second surgery took nine hours, and MaryAnn spent nine days after surgery in the ICU. “I really never thought that I would wake up from this surgery, and I was thrilled when I did! On top of that, Dr. Krisht told me that he had gotten all of the tumor. It was meningioma blastoma, and it was benign!” MaryAnn says. “I spent three days in the regular hospital room and five days in rehab. Then, I came home and had to adjust to my new normal. It took me almost two years to recover.”
MaryAnn used a walker for three weeks after surgery. To this day, she has balance issues and a heightened sense of smell and taste. She also did not drive for two years following the surgery. “I turned 60 on September 5, 2016, just a few months after the surgery, and it was rough. I felt like I was all over the place,” MaryAnn says. “I found brain tumor support groups online and was able to talk to people going through the same thing. Talking to others kept me from depression. I was so blessed, and there were so many people going through so much worse.”
As she adjusted, MaryAnn learned to love retirement. “I paint, latch hook, and care for our precious fur babies. We have a three-year-old Rottweiler named Maggie and an eight-year-old Yorkie named Cali,” MaryAnn says. “I am also married to the most wonderful man in the whole world. He’s my rock and my soul.”
Looking back on the experience, MaryAnn cannot help but see how God worked through every step in the process. “It honestly was a miracle. God put me exactly where I needed to be when I needed to be there. There is no other reason why I was referred to a neurosurgeon in the top 1% of the world. There is no other reason why my brain tumor wasn’t cancer,” MaryAnn says.
Six years later, MaryAnn and Kip were in Florida visiting his son and their family when a family friend took them out on a boat. Though tropical storms were everywhere, they were protected on the intercoastal canal. However, the smooth, glass-like water quickly changed when the driver steered them onto the volatile, open sea. “We hit these six-foot swells, and everyone was vaulted four feet in the air and slammed back in the boat three or four times. I honestly thought I might have broken my back!” MaryAnn says. “I went in for X-rays, but there was nothing broken.”
A few days later, MaryAnn noticed a lot of blood in her urine and went to her regular doctor to check it out. He ordered a CT scan, and a mass on her right kidney showed up. He referred her to a kidney doctor, who ordered a CT with contrast and an ultrasound. Both showed the hard mass, so MaryAnn was sent to Dallas to see a nephrologist surgeon. On May 24, 2022, exactly six years to the day she was told she had a brain tumor, MaryAnn was told that she had a mass on her right kidney, and it was cancer. “Honestly, that boat ride saved my life! I really thought something was wrong from the whole ordeal, but it made my cancer start showing symptoms,” MaryAnn says, “Every doctor I went to said those exact words, and I knew that everything happens for a reason. God is good.”
Though MaryAnn saw God’s hand in bringing it to light, she was still facing the dreaded c-word. Her fear was only exacerbated by the fact that both of her parents had passed from cancer. Her mother died from multiple myeloma in 2005. Her father died of acute lymphocytic leukemia, or bone marrow cancer, in 2013. “My diagnosis was really hard on my whole family, especially my daughter, Amy. She thought she was going to lose her mom. Also, I lived at home with my parents until Amy was six or seven years old, and my mom was a second mother to her. We lost my mom, my dad, and then I had a brain tumor,” MaryAnn says. “You don’t think you will live through a brain tumor, and it’s hard to believe that you will live through cancer.”
MaryAnn underwent surgery on July 24, 2022, to remove the bottom part of her right kidney, and she came home the next day. Even though she was home, MaryAnn was in a lot of pain post-surgery. “I’ve never had such horrific pain in my life. I thought I was dying, but I didn’t! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” MaryAnn says, “They were able to remove the entire mass, so I didn’t have to do chemo or radiation. Once again, God got me through it, and I was blessed beyond belief.”
Post brain tumor and kidney cancer, MaryAnn’s new philosophy is to live life for every moment because everything could change in the blink of an eye. “When I could travel again after my brain tumor, we went to see Kip’s two sons in Florida, and while we were there, Kip’s son’s boss offered a ride in his private jet helicopter. Kip said, ‘My wife would never get in that helicopter.’ But, I took off running for the helicopter. Then Kip said, ‘My wife will never get off the ground in that helicopter,’ but we went for the ride. Kip just kept saying he didn’t know who I was anymore,” MaryAnn says. “It is true that I’m extremely scared of heights, but I just wanted to do something I had never done before. And I’m so glad I did. It was a beautiful experience.”
Now, MaryAnn wants to do something out of her comfort zone to celebrate facing kidney cancer. A few years ago, they were in Costa Rica, and everyone ziplined except MaryAnn, so she has asked Kip to take her ziplining. They are currently talking about going to Las Vegas and ziplining over the Strip. This is just one of many trips the couple plan to take together. Soon, Kip hopes to retire, and the two plan on buying a mobile home and traveling the country on a whim while spending much time in Florida with Kip’s son and grandchildren. “We are looking forward to the memories we still have time to make together,” MaryAnn says.
For other readers facing cancer or a cancer scare, MaryAnn suggests keeping positive, staying hopeful, and leaning on faith. “Always pray and pray hard. Let your friends and family pray with and over you. I never felt so loved as I did when a client or friend asked if they could take my hand and pray with me,” MaryAnn says. “It’s an awesome, awesome feeling.”
MaryAnn and Kip still keep a close eye on MaryAnn’s health. She goes back for CT scans every three months, and if she continues to get good results, she will go every six months and then, hopefully, yearly. She also gets yearly MRIs to check for new tumor growth. “God, my family, and my friends are the ones who got me through the toughest times in my life,” MaryAnn says. “I don’t know God’s plan for me in the future, but He is now and will always be in my heart. I know He loves each and every one of us and has a plan for our life.”